At our first in-person event, ‘Succession: The Founder’s Dilemma’, we were delighted to be joined by a panel of experts who each gave their Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice – for founders and CEOs contemplating their succession. Two of those panellists were Clive Beharrell and Camilla Dolan, both of whom are particularly well-versed in succession, but have contrasting experiences of – and opinions on – the subject.
After more than three decades as a serial Chairman and Investor, Clive has served as the mediator in a multitude of successful investment rounds. And during that time, he explained, he had almost never encountered a situation of that description in which the founder had remained at the head of the business. Camilla, on the other hand, made a claim to the contrary. She explained how her time as a seasoned Venture Capitalist had actually shown founder-led businesses to typically outperform those in which the founder is succeeded by a CEO.
So, whether you are a founder looking to move away from your business, or whether you want to solidify your position as its leader, you can find Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice – to implement today, below.
Clive introduced his Three Things by explaining two situations he had seen time and again that typically resulted in successions of some form throughout his career.
“Both situations are difficult”, he said, “but you usually either have a founder that truly wants to exit, which gives you a clear trajectory. Or you have a founder who thinks they want to exit but behaves completely differently, which is a lot trickier.”
Regardless of whichever situation was true, Clive’s job as Chairman was to ensure a smooth transition that added value and left both the exiting founder and incoming CEO feeling supported and optimistic.
With that in mind, here are Clive’s Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice – founders should consider to make their succession as purposeful and effective as possible:
1. Know your vision.
“Vision is a big word, and it doesn’t just relate to the vision for the business”, Clive explained. “It also concerns the founders. They have families and so on, so it’s also about what they want out of their succession.”
2. Hire a chair.
“You need someone who really cares about the business, probably someone who has skin in the game”, Clive said, “because founders tend to think they need a CEO who mirrors them. In my experience, that’s completely wrong and just creates conflict.” A chair is there to provide an unbiased perspective, one that is concerned solely with the success of the business and will always act in its best interests. They also create a balance between the founders and PE, Clive explained, “Critically, the chair must be impartial so that, if either party does not behave properly, they can pull them on it.”
3. Take your time.
“I’ve found that it usually takes about a year to find a CEO”, said Clive. “Ideally, you should promote from within because that person will know the business and you can have a transition period [which makes the process smoother], but I think that’s an unusual luxury to have. The solution is to really spend time on your recruitment to make sure you get the right person in.”
Seed Investor and Partner –
Smart Intellectual Properties
Chairman and Shareholder –
Current roles include:
Chairman and Shareholder –
Crew Clothing Ltd
Student High Street
Founder – Latimer Equine
Partner – MMC Ventures
Head of London – Burda Principal Investments
General Partner – EKA Ventures
With nearly fifteen years’ experience in the investment industry, EKA Ventures General Partner, Camilla Dolan, has developed a profound understanding of how to make sure a business continues to grow, which is reflected in EKA’s investment policy.
“We prefer to back founder-led businesses where possible”, she said, “because, in our experience, companies that go on to be more successful – and grow at a real pace – typically still have the founder(s) present.”
In fact, EKA’s research shows that 90% of European companies that became unicorns since 2000 still had the founder present when reaching the $1B valuation mark.
Camilla therefore offered our members Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice – for founders looking to remain at the head of their businesses:
1. Learn, learn, and learn some more.
“The number one thing we see the successful founders we work with is an obsession with learning”, Camilla said. “That’s not just learning about functions, though. It’s about personal development and improving your skillset on a continuous basis.” Recognising your shortcomings and demonstrating that you are willing to put in the work to rectify them is one of the best ways to show investors and stakeholders that you are the right person to take your business forward. To aid in this endeavour, you may benefit from
2.Understand what excellent looks like.
“It’s great to be a visionary, to be an entrepreneur, but some of the things around scaling and infrastructure just need to be right”, Camilla explained. “Great founders find the very best person in each of the different functions and learn what excellent looks like.” And this is where recruitment comes into play because founders – particularly first-time founders – cannot know all there is to know about business. They cannot be experts on every aspect, so finding people who can take care of those areas is paramount.
3. Hire people that are better than you.
Leading on from her previous point, Camilla then stressed how important it is to be selective throughout recruitment. “If they can’t do what you’re hiring them for ten times better than you, just don’t hire them. And don’t be afraid about it, either”, she advised. “If you hire people better than you, the business keeps growing and you have the opportunity to continue to be really successful.”
We would like to say a big thank you to our brilliant panellists, Clive and Camilla, for providing such valuable insight and advice to our members.
If you or anyone you know is a founder struggling with succession, contact All Together today for up to five hours of pro bono advice from an expert from your industry.