When professional CEOs step in for founders
The news of Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos’s departure as CEO after 27 years of taking the company from its humble beginnings as an online bookstore to the world’s leading digital retailer represents one of many founder-led companies in tech that have relinquished control of ventures in which they were deeply invested and chose instead to place them in the hands of a qualified successor.
In a similar vein, the Co-Founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, announced in 2019 that Sundar Pichai would be assuming leadership for both Google and parent company Alphabet. This meant that the duo would be departing from their roles as CEO and President at Alphabet with Pichai already in charge of leading Google as CEO since 2015.
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According to a joint letter written by Page and Brin, the pair felt it was better to appoint an individual more capable to run the companies than to cling onto their management roles.
Other examples include Apple and Microsoft’s founders stepping back from their Founder–CEO positions, both for their own reasons.
How to ensure a smooth transition
The transition of leadership marks a significant turning point both for the individual who shaped and nurtured the entire organisation into being as well as for those working closely with founders.
“The biggest challenge – and I think this is relevant in almost all situations – is to transition over leadership as seamlessly as possible. It’s a fine balance,” explains Martin Herbst, CEO of global recruitment software solution, JobAdder. “If done too quickly it can be overly disruptive and counterproductive. If done too slowly, it can be confusing for the team and there can be a lost opportunity to make a strong first impression.”
Herbst describes the process as more of an art than a science that involves a delicate balance of factors; the readiness of the founder to redirect their time and efforts elsewhere, the CEO to assume leadership and for staff to be receptive to this change.
He believes that communication is critical to a seamless takeover coupled with a transition plan that maps out how key responsibilities from the founder will be redirected over time.
During the transition phase, success also largely depends on prioritising the needs of the business above any other changes that are happening.