The Pain of Being a Founder of a Company
I have new insights into the pain Founders of companies go through when the transition from the founder to the new leader happens.
When they started the company no one really bothered them. They were the “crazy” ones, working extra hard, overtime, taking risks ignoring their family and even their health. Who wants it?
No one really interfered with their decision-making and challenged their authority. The work was excessive and the reward questionable; it was not attractive for people to demand participation in decision-making.
Now that the company is successful, and there is money, and recognition and respect for the title…everyone and his brother develops interest in the company and wants to have authority to define its direction.
Those under the founder start pushing, pushing him out. They want to lead. They want his position.
What is going through his mind is: “Where the hell have you been till now?”
A struggle for leadership develops and replacement is threatening the founder.
I have noticed what triggers the resolve to replace him or her: first is that the company has outgrown its founder. By it, I mean, the company needs some order not just more growth; Not more of the same but better and different.
The founder being successful so far considers these demands for change as an affront to his leadership. His ego gets hurt. Furthermore, he is getting scared that the changes recommended can destroy what he has built successfully over many years.
He is in pain.
He has experience. He has the scars to prove it. The challengers have lots of energy to push for change because they do not have the same scars. They believe in what they are pushing for and they do not have much to lose. It is not their “baby” that they will lose if what they recommend doing fails.
He, the founder, on the other hand has EVERYTHING to lose. Years and years of work, hard work, of building the company. Paying the price by losing the family, not knowing the children and even may be sacrificing his health.
To put all of that at risk?
He fights back and is considered a barrier for change and the solution boards come to or consultants recommend is replacing him.
The second reason that triggers the desire to replace the founder is that he is old and not functioning any more. The company has no energy. It is marching in place while the market is advancing at top speed.
The company needs new leadership.
And how do you think the founder feels when the demand for replacement comes?
Do you think he admits his age? His incapability to lead?
He feel discarded, used and discarded. His whole life has gone into this company or as one founder told me: “All I remember is when my children were born and when they got married… I have no other memories of my children…”
While he has no memories of his children, he remembers every event that happened in the company.
Every one of them.
And now he is out, goodbye. It will be like you raise your children and once they do not need you any more they send you to an old age home to die and just promise to visit. Depressing, no?
There is glory in building a company but it is followed by pain. Deep pain.
I was consulting to a founder of a company. He had only one daughter who was taking over the company.
They were fighting a lot. What she wanted to do he rejected. And she threatened to quit which scared him a lot because all these years he believed that he was building this company for the “family,” for her to grow up and take it over.
When we sat in “four eyes” to discuss the situation I asked him how many children he has.
He said surprised at the question: “One. My daughter.”
I said: “No. two”
He got really uncomfortable. This was a religious man and it was like I was going to tell him he had another child out of wedlock.
“The second one is the company and you are worried that your daughter will destroy this second child of yours. The second child you devoted more time to than to anyone else.”
He started to cry. Really. I touched a nerve.
Starting a company, being a founder is more than just an entrepreneurial endeavor to make money. You are building a monument to survive your departure from this world, you are building your hall of fame, you are making your dream come true. And now that you are older, and new blood is coming to manage your “dream,” you are having a nightmare. Are they going to destroy what you have built with so much love?
Is there a way to minimize the pain?
Yes there is and I have been working on it for forty-four years.
Coming up in future blogs. God willing. Stay tuned.
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes