DCSIMG

Michelle Rodger: Knowing when to make room at the top is a valuable skill

THE world of Twitter was all a-flutter when major changes were announced at the top of the organisation.

Just last month, co-founder Evan Williams announced unexpectedly that he was going to step down as chief executive and hand the job over to chief operating officer Dick Costolo.

For a company that has experienced such phenomenal growth with Williams at the helm the decision came as something of a shock.

Williams made the decision after spending months working on #newtwitter, the redesign of the Twitter web site, and recognising that while he excels at understanding his customer and the bigger picture around Twitter's future, he's not so hot at the detail-orientated tasks.

According to Steve Blank, entrepreneurship teacher at Standford, Williams is the stereotypical Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur. He's inspired and talented with good ideas, but not best equipped to execute a sophisticated business strategy once the business has moved beyond the start-up phase.

Evan Williams, says Blank, is the type of entrepreneur who knows when to pivot. "What we may be seeing is wonderful signs of entrepreneurial wisdom."

Sounds good in a Californian, geeky, kinda way. But does it translate? Are we in Scotland ballsy enough to recognise when we've reached the point at which the business would do better without us at the helm? Or are we too stubborn and pig-headed to hand over the reins to someone else?

It seems not. It may be rare, but there are examples of such altruism to be found in Scottish business.

For serial entrepreneur Paul Atkinson, the initial driving force behind Head Resourcing, the decision to step down came with the realisation that new business challenges, networking with industry leaders, investing in small start-ups and generally "doing deals" were the things he really wanted to do.

So, in 2008 he stepped down from his role at Head Resourcing to establish investment business, Par Equity. And, after ruling out selling Head, he began to distance himself while supporting Gordon Adam who took over the role of growing and developing the business.

Adam's key focus was to turn Head Resourcing from a business that was fairly reliant on one personality, to one that had a proper management structure, shared ownership of decisions, robust processes and communications. And it worked.

Head Resourcing has grown dramatically in the last few years, both in turnover and profit, but has also developed a different culture, more delivery than sales- focused.

The duo learned that entrepreneurs are hugely valuable at the early stages of business, but are not always motivated to run companies in their "middle years".

A similar story can be found at Attacat Internet Marketing. The company has "ticked along" since 2004, but it is only in the last year it really started to experience growth, expanding from four to nine full-time employees in 12 months. And as founder Tim Barlow says, it's no coincidence that he stepped aside 15 months ago for Ben Rogers.

Frustration, a desire to grow Attacat into a much bigger concern, and a realisation that he was losing great talent because there was no career path for employees while he sat at the top, formed the driving force behind Barlow's decision to give Rogers his job.

Like Williams, Barlow realised that his skills, and his satisfaction at work, didn't lie in either sales or being tied to day-to-day activity, but in developing the company's skills set and enjoying the freedom to come and go as he pleased.

He remains actively involved, but with a different focus.

Says Rogers, the duo still make the big decisions together, but it is rare that there is tension or major disagreement.

The business has changed beyond all recognition since the changeover, and all for the better says Barlow. There have been many lessons learned; perhaps the biggest is learning the value of true delegation.

Playing to your strengths is an attribute of a true leader; being confident enough in yourself to admit that someone else might be better placed to do your job, and then having enough confidence in the team you have built around you to watch and support from a safe distance.

You would do well to remember that your business isn't all about you.

 
 
 

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