Top Management

It is almost impossible to manage a static company for any length of time because there is no room to maneuver. To manage successfully, you have to be able to steer, at least a little. And you can't steer effectively unless you are making some headway and there is room to grow. Growth is as essential as oxygen.

The more brilliant you are, the quicker your company will grow to a size where even you can't do everything. It is therefore essential to get the right team together. Some of the rowers may be with you already. One or two others you may have to find as soon as you prudently can.

While the bloom of endless future possibilities is still on a company, it's relatively easy to attract outstanding employees. This bloom, however, doesn't stay upon on a budding company forever—seven years at most. After that, most of the great team players will have already gravitated to the larger corporations. Small firms are left with the mavericks who can be brilliant and adroit. Their companies can be extremely profitable. However, such prosperity comes at a price. They are far harder to manage.

While every member of the team matters, it is the handful at the top that steer the destiny of any firm. Getting the right people at the top is essential. Often it can take as little as one person to affect an entire company's mood. A new senior man can as easily break as make a firm. It is in everyone's interest that you be circumspect. Take your time selecting and screening the candidates. Have as many meetings as you need to explain the business and get to know each other. Make sure that the chosen candidate is sympathetic to your aims and has an instinctive feel for the business. The crucial thing is what the candidate can do for your company. People who make the difference often know the answer before they ever join. Do not accept put offs along the lines of "I can't tell until I actually start working." Find out how the candidate plans to get you from where you are to where you want to be before he is appointed. Calculate the cost the operation and its options between you. This way, you should be able to gauge whether he or she is likely to deliver.

Before drafting any letter of appointment, ensure, by e-mail or exchange of letters, that the situation, goals, and resources are clearly understood and agreed to. There is no point in fudging. We have all seen or heard stories of high caliber people brought into IT firms to effect some decisive change with ample resources, only to be told on their first morning that the cupboard is bare. That's an exit strategy from the start. All that will happen is that your would-be savior will do his ostensible best while making other arrangements. Someone else will soon snap him up.

It is not what people say that matters; it's what they actually do. The irony of Watson telling everyone, "If you want to be a big company tomorrow, you have to start acting like one today" is that from the day he started buying up punch card operations, he knew that a machine would one day manage data more cheaply and more efficiently than his Hollerith machines. In the interim, he trained his staff and built his great corporation. Successful sales managers were continuously trained and promoted. IBM staff were the elite.

Fifty years later, the product that IBM was built for began to appear. Instead of behaving like a big company president, Watson dithered, fretting that his now withering punch-card business would be taken away. Indeed, he would have blown it had not the U.S. Department of Justice brought a suit against IBM for monopolizing the punch-card business. Watson was scared. Fifty years earlier, he had been sentenced to prison for an antitrust violation brought against National Cash Registers (NCR). Only a presidential pardon (thanks to the firm's election predictions) saved him. In the maelstrom, his sons forced him to stand down. They then put together a top-notch management team and within three years IBM emerged as the undisputed leader in data processing. To the outside world nothing had happened. IBM had simply taken its rightful place in the information technology world order of that time.

Watson was afraid to let go of his early, enormously successful idea. In the IT industry, it usually happens the other way around. The founder has too active a mind to fit into any conventional business. Management then becomes a relay race with the business as the baton. If you discover that you are a born pioneer rather than a settler, revel in your gifts and find another frontier. Pass day-to-day management to a capable person in whom you can trust and keep control of your firm. This way your business acquires twin towers of strength, each doing what he or she does best.

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