18 May 2022

Finding Meaning In Company Ownership

A number of years ago one of my companies failed, and I had to tell my entire staff that they were out of a job.

A number of years ago one of my companies failed, and I had to tell my entire staff that they were out of a job.
I cried. It hurt me so much to have to go to each of them to tell them. For no fault of their own, they didn’t have a job anymore. It wasn’t their performance, or negligence, or anything that they had done or didn’t do. It was just very bad fortune, and so I led 40 families into unemployment, including my own. It was heartbreaking, and I never felt more alone in my life.

It’s lonely at the top, and risky too. Employees don’t really understand that part of an owner’s job. Plus, if you have other shareholders in the game with you, then you have to juggle all of their priorities and expectations for the company as well. It can be daunting sometimes. I’ve built and exited 5 companies of my own, and failed at 2 others. I know the stresses of ownership all too well, which is why some of the top family owned companies in the GCC have asked for my advice.

I want to help you too.

Here are my top 5 tips for finding meaning in company ownership.

Defend the boundary between ownership and management.

Never, ever, meddle in management. Unless you are both the owner and the CEO, which is the case for a lot of SMEs, let your managers do their jobs. The division between ownership and management should be considered sacred. The management should be employee and customer facing, with the owners facing the shareholders.
In many companies that I consult for, the relationship between the CEO and the Chairman of the Board is the most critical. These two positions defend the line by building trust with each other. When a manager is truly caring for the interests of the owners, without compromising the interests of the customers and employees, then the owners can sleep well.

Read the reports
I know too many owners that are too lazy to be competent in the numbers. Your management staff work for weeks, sometimes months, to provide clear and accurate information for you. You should honour that work by reading the reports.

And keep in mind, that it’s your name on the trade license. You bear the risk of liability if something goes horribly wrong, so it’s a good idea to be knowledgeable about what the management are doing and the direction in which the company is going.

Encourage your C-Suite (they’re humans too)
It’s lonely at the top, and that’s as true for your C-Suite as it is for you. They’ll be looking to you for some measure of the affirmation that all humans need in order to feel a sense of trust and belonging. I’m not suggesting that you be radically generous with your compliments or go around the office hugging the CFO, just be mindful of the fact that they too are human and seek approval.

I encourage owners in the companies that I work in to spend quality social time with their C-Suite staff as well. Leadership retreats are on the formal side, and backyard BBQs are on the casual side of this spectrum, but anything on that spectrum will be profitable for you as it encourages open communication and trust.

Acknowledge the lifecycle
No, your company is not likely to last a hundred years. Few do. It will have a lifecycle, with a beginning, a growth period, a decline period, and eventually an end. The end might be a merger, acquisition, exit, or bankruptcy, but the reality is that it will come to an end at some point in the future.

It’s like life, we only truly value the life we have when we embrace the inevitability of its eventual end. Acknowledging the lifecycle of your company will make you less likely to give in to a commitment bias when it’s time to let it go, and you’ll be more mindful and present in the experience of the company’s growth and decline at all of its stages. Knowing where you are in the cycle, and accepting it, is a great way to decrease ownership stress.

Insist on coaching for your executives
Every top player in every game on the planet, has a coach. Athletes, artists, doctors, writers, and yes, the vast majority of the C-Suite in the Fortune 500 all have coaches. Depending on the study you read, the average ROI on coaching is around 800%. It’s a no-brainer, and an easy investment choice.

When I’m with my C-Suite clients, they feel safe to tell me things that they can’t talk about with their colleagues, staff, or even their spouse. And they certainly not going to tell the owner. So when a Ceo is insecure about a strategy move, questioning their own judgement, sensing a disruption coming, feeling threatened by another person on the team, or having a bout of impostor syndrome, they talk to the only person that will understand both the human element and the business implications, me
.
With the cost of C-Suite transition averaging about 18-24 gross salary package, it’s well worth it to make sure that your top players remain at the top of their game. It can only help you, and you’ll make more money as a result of their improved decision making and clarity of thought.

As a company owner myself, I follow all of these tips. I wouldn’t share them if I didn’t think they were important and helpful for me as well. I think company ownership is an amazing privilege, and a huge responsibility. Remember your place on the team. You might own the company, but the people work for themselves. Keep their interests aligned with yours and all of you will be able to care for your families as a result. Reach out to me if there’s anything I can do to support you.

Article by: Dr. Corrie Block
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