OPINION: When people ask me what a professional director actually does, I tend to list three main things.
First appoint a great chief executive and manage them up or out. Second help set the strategy and monitor its implementation. Third provide prudential oversight over the likes of financials, risk, health and safety, remuneration and people.
Of these three buckets, I reckon the first is most critical to growth. Appointing a great chief executive has the greatest potential to lift value and build culture, but appointing a poor one can be corrosive to both.
Equally, what constitutes a great chief executive for a company, depends very much on the stage a company is at. Few chief executives have got the legs to take a company from start up, to scale up to a mature growth business.
* Cloud software firm Timely sold for ‘more than $100m’
* The one responsibility board and directors often forget? Not sticking around too long
* Deaf community behind Garage Project’s new beer, Talk to the Hand
* Cloud software firm Vend goes on hiring spree as US business booms
* From Vend to Populate: Kirsti Grant’s ‘audacious’ goals
This is on my mind at the moment as I am currently recruiting for a new chief executive at Garage Project. Garage Project is one of the largest independent craft breweries in New Zealand and Australia and aims to provide mind-blowing experiences of artfully crafted beer.
If you have tried the likes of its Affogado Stout or Pernicious Yuzu Weed; then you know its is dead serious.
Mike ODonnell is a company director who is searching for a great chief executive.
Our current chief executive has been with us four years and done a cracking job growing the company; but now he’s keen to take a breather and spend more time consuming product rather than producing it.
Ten years after three blokes in a draughty garage made 24 brews in 24 weeks, Garage Project is now brewing a few million litres of beer a year and are putting more and more of it across the ditch.
Now we’re looking for a chief executive who’s able to pick up a company that’s already on a growth trajectory but has the ability to inject scalability and reach while keeping the creative spark bright; so that the growth curve is able to steepen further.
Russell Reynolds talks about three kinds of chief executives – attack chief executives focused on growth, fortification chief executives defending a patch and genesis chief executives who create new markets. I think more about startup chief executives, product-market fit chief executives and scale chief executives. And at Garage Project its now about scaling. That and engaging deeply with staff and fans.
Retail software platform Vend sold recently for $455 million. A tidy sum for a 12-year-old local software as a service company. Over those 12 years Vend went through three chief executives. All quite different, but each right for the company at that time.
The founder and first chief executive was Vaughan Fergusson. Irreverent introvert Fergusson berthed the idea for Vend while doing a solo bike ride from Bluff to Cape Reinga. Then he built it with his bare hands.
Brewing the perfect chief executive: Garage Project makes a few million litres of beer a year and is now looking for the next person to lead the company.
With his trademark moustache and incendiary sense of humour Vaughan developed early run-through by blowing up cash registers and adopting green sneakers as the company corporate wardrobe.
A few years later Alex Fala took the helm. With a background that included 10 years at global management consultancy firm, McKinsey and three as head of strategy at Trade Me, Fala refined and perfected the product/market fit of the Vend offer.
Rather than try to be all things to all people, Fala went deep rather than wide and put a commercial filter over footprint and expansion. Sensible growth in the markets that worked rather than growth at any cost.
Then a few years ago Ana Wight took over as chief executive. Wight came to the gig with government to government and government to business experience. Having previously held roles at Spark and Microsoft where scalability was everything, the board saw her as the person to take the company forward to a point where it was optimised for sale.
Then there’s the exception that proves the rule. The founder who is able to grow and scale with the business, but in a way that brings the entire staff along for the ride.
Here in New Zealand the company that personifies this is hair and beauty platform Timely. Timely was started eight years ago by Ryan Baker, Andrew Schofield and Willy Berger. Baker took the helm as founder and chief executive.
Having previously worked with Ian Taylor, of Animation Research, to build and sell BookIt to Trade Me, Baker had a bit of an idea of what sort of company culture he wanted to build; and was prepared to back himself to do the rest.
As chief executive Baker took the company from three blokes working at home to 125 staff on two continents, servicing over 18,000 businesses in over 70 countries. And recently it also sold for over $100m.
The remarkable thing about Baker is that as the chief executive he grew with the company. Key to this was not getting cocky. Every year when he did his performance review with the board, his opening question to the board was “am I still the right person to lead this company?”
Put that on the table at the start of an annual review and it puts a different lens on things. As my old chairman Peter Chrisp is fond of saying; trust binds us, but honesty frees us. In Baker’s case it freed up a wide-ranging discussion which meant nothing was out of bounds. Along with his humility it has been key to Timely’s success.
So maybe that’s the takeaway for finding the next chief executive for Garage Project. Humility and honesty need to be key.
Mike “MOD” O’Donnell is a professional director, writer and strategy advisor. While this is MOD’s personal opinion he is chairman of Garage Project and the former chairman of Timely.
Originally Appeared Here