My primary role at the company is CEO. My secondary role is lead of the Product Development team. I'm able to evolve our company because I have amassed enough experience to know how to do both jobs well.
It does not matter what the company makes or what it does, because that will require technical skills. Being a CEO requires the knowledge of how to run and run a business well.
I wasn't always a CEO. In the beginning I was an entrepreneur; a founder of multiple companies. It was not until I started hiring and managing that I started to understand what an executive should know. CEO is a title that is often self-assigned in order to inflate appearances. Read my tweet here.
The business of business is like an athletic competition. It's a study. And I have been consistently studying it since in junior high in 1982. I studied enough to learn how to influence my vision over my staff and to implement departments, design processes, and develop skillsets in others. At this point I became a junior CEO. A more senior CEO would have avoided personal loan guarantees and junior mistakes.
Studying turned into teaching, and around the time I turned 40 I wrote a book called For Office Use Only which neatly lays out how employers and employees think about the same topic. Nothing substantive has changed since, and the book has been updated to the second version as of 2023. It's a great resource for any CEO or executive manager.
Over time, especially after the age of 35 after having employed people for 15 years, I became a CEO. Age and compounding experience elevated my abilities to migrate between an hands-on and hands-off CEO. Each project we launch often requires the hands-on CEO approach.
Now in my 50's there are few businesses I could not figure out how to run. Most business operates on basic principles that are generally understood, but knowing how and when to pull certain levers, judge the future, market, and avoid pitfalls is where experience is king.
It's been my observation that the most killer CEO's are between the ages of 50-60 who have been a CEO or a real former COO for 10 years. Here is why:
- They are still energetic
- They have a huge database of contacts from which to pull
- They have experienced at least one great up and one huge down
- They know what they know (happens around 40)
- They know what real opportunity looks like
- They do not need to take unnecessary chances
CEO's in this age and experience bracket, I believe, are the one's who stand the chance for the most future success. The older and wealthier they get there is a drop off. People do get bored, or worse, they are old; too old to want to change. That disinterest in change updates usually signals material negative change in their observation of oneself. It is one step closer to being out of the game, and that is a dangerous place for a long-term CEO to be. It quickly deteriorates mental health.
For the same reason why most people do not start businesses, most people are not CEO's or any C-level title much ever. The world is not filled with C-Suiters. C-Suiters are a small group of people who range in skill and responsibility. The CEO of Goldman Sachs is responsible for 40,000 employees. There is not a ratio of CEO:#employees. It's a huge position for which few are qualified. Conversely an auto body repair shop doesn't have a CEO but an owner or manager.
CEO jobs are often looked upon in awe, but for what? They paint a picture of power to many, but often CEO's are turned over for another like any other employee. The stakes are high for a company to be led by one person, so that person better be fit for the job. Consider the difference: A currently employed CEO vs a CEO looking for a job.
As business evolves, a CEO needs to also evolve. The same tactics used in yesterday's world may not work tomorrow. An evergreen CEO will adapt while keeping core understanding of how business operates intact.
From my vantage point, to be an evergreen CEO there needs to be a continued level of innovation delivered to business operations. With hope my innovative ideas about how to operate our business will continue until someone is ready to assume my role. Innovation is critical at the product level, and I believe it is critical at the company level as well.