These days, everyone is obsessed with titles. They want something grand on their business card. There’s an idea that one’s self-worth gets a boost simply because you have the word “chief” in front of your job title. But fancy names don’t impress me. First of all, the term “chief executive” is an American invention. I’m not from the States – I’m a Yorkshireman. In this country, the boss has always been the managing director. That’s one reason why I’ll never call myself CEO of BigChange.
But there is another explanation for my choice to remain MD, even as the business grows internationally (one day, we hope to be trading in the US). The fact is that chief executives tend to be one level removed from the shop floor of any business.
In my experience, chief executives tend to have fewer reports – maybe two or three people. An MD runs various teams and can have many more people reporting to them. I have seven reports. Managing directors get their hands dirty. I like to stay closer to the daily workings of my organisation.
I am still the founder and the leader of this business. That means that my role encompasses strategy and funding and culture – things that are typically assigned to the CEO. But I am honest about my strengths and my weaknesses, which is why I buy in expertise every time I need to go outside my comfort zone. I call these people my “coaches”, although I suppose the old-fashioned term is “consultants”. Right now, I have a coach helping me hone my three-year plan.
I could write this forecast on my own but this coach has a vast amount of experience at companies of all sizes – some that generate billions in revenue. He has also worked across many industries. He brings a new perspective, a skillset that goes beyond my own; I’ve never worked in a big corporation so I have never made plans that suit a really large organisation – I hope that BigChange will be one of these before long.
Over the years, I have seen many private equity firms appoint specialists like these to help their acquisition companies to grow. Who says you need to wait until you’re acquired? I’m going to find and absorb all the knowledge I can.
I’ve been told this is an unusual strategy: buying in CEO smarts, as and when I need it. Coaches are expensive, they say. Well, even £2,000 a day or above is cheaper than taking on a new member of staff to do the job. And with these experts, there’s no downtime. It’s an intensive process and usually you see immediate ROI.
Most people also don’t like to admit they have gaps in their knowledge – or are desperate to secure the coveted title of CEO. I prefer to stay humble.