As this column develops over time, I will share my thoughts with fellow CEOs, presidents, general managers and business owners based on questions that are submitted to me at email@example.com.
For this inaugural column, I’ve decided to address the question I’ve been asked the most over my 30-year career. It usually goes something like this, “What advice do you have for a new business owner (or CEO, president or general manager)?” While that is a very general question, in my mind, they are asking if there were any secrets or tricks that helped me succeed.
My advice is always centered around three general topics, but they apply to every business, regardless of whether it is a service business or software start-up. They include communication, business planning and a board of directors. In future columns, I will touch on communication and business planning. This month, let’s stay focused on creating a board of directors.
Being a CEO or president is a lonely job. Yes, we are paid well, but every decision and crisis in the company is placed on our shoulders. In tough times or when we might not have the best answer, we are faced with the challenge of knowing the right thing to do. We can’t go to our management team or employees because their response is, “Why ask me? You are the president. Aren’t you supposed to know these things?”
The very first thing I did with each new company I bought or was hired to run was to “recruit” a board of directors. I say “recruit” because in every case these were bright, smart and objective professionals that agreed to be a part of my board at no charge to me. These are talented people who wanted two things for me: business success and personal success.
Now that I have stepped away from the day-to-day role of CEO, I am fortunate to be in a position with NACET to help a wide variety of businesses. When I meet with a company president or CEO, one of my first questions is, “Who is on your board of directors?” Some business owners might think of it as a board of advisors or an advisory board.
So why do I believe this board is so critical? Remember my earlier comment about being lonely? Now imagine Ms. Lonely CEO faced with a tough situation but instead has three to five smart, experienced and objective advisors that only want two things: for her to succeed and for her business to be successful. It makes all the difference in the world.
As CEOs, we tend to be focused on the day-to-day and rarely get an opportunity to put our head outside of the chaos of the business to think, plan and strategize. By having a board of directors and holding regular meetings (I suggest starting off with every six to eight weeks), we are forced to step back, look at what we have accomplished and answer the questions about where we are going. Again, your board is made up of objective professionals who want you to succeed.
Most business owners I talk to don’t have boards. They have excuses like, “We are too small,” “We aren’t a public company,” or “We can’t afford that right now.” While those are the first responses, what I find by digging a bit is that most business owners and leaders don’t understand what a board does or what is involved. Even worse, some fear that a board could actually fire them from their own company.
One of the most amazing things we as business leaders get to experience is growing a successful business. We see the employees and their families benefit and we see the community gain. I could never have accomplished the things I did in my career had it not been for smart and objective board members whom today I consider good friends.
If you are currently a business owner, president or CEO and you don’t have a board of directors, I encourage you to identify three to five individuals and create what will be the start of the next big step toward success for you and your company. Send me an email if you need help with a board agenda, selecting members or just have questions. FBN
By T Paul Thomas
T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University and serves as chief entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU and NACET in 2013, Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and president. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.