Our businesses are expressions of ourselves. They are the extensions of our talents and visions as well as our weaknesses and blind spots. We live and die in the large and small dramas of customers, employees, suppliers, regulators, bankers and business partners. We hope that the strategy we have created is clever enough to keep us viable in the harsh competitive environment in which we operate. At the same time we know that someone smarter, or younger or more hungry than we are is right now thinking up ways to displace us in the rapidly evolving ecosystem. We know we are vulnerable. We know we are mortal. That is what makes us better. That is what makes us noble. That is what makes us human.
To build a viable business that can last beyond our own time in charge, you need to get over yourself. I don’t mean that to be rude. I mean that the business must be designed not to be dependent on you. It needs to be designed as a system of value creation that engages customers with your offerings and service processes in ways that can be managed by people other than you, at prices customers want to pay, and at costs that enable economic profit. This sounds simple until you start to ask yourself a few questions: if I walked out tomorrow, how long would this business remain viable? Does my business produce economic profit today (economic profit is your operating profit after taxes minus your cost of capital)? Who are the two to three people in the company who are ready to step into my role and lead the company into its next phase?
If you don’t have answers to these questions, you are not over yourself yet. You are in the way. What you are in the way of is your transition to whatever might be next for you: retirement, another career, a bigger contribution to your favorite cause, more time with your family or whatever you are dreaming of doing when you can take the time. We all think we have the time. Maybe we do and maybe we don’t. The point is, it is not time that you are waiting for, it’s a different way of thinking about your business, your role in it and the contribution you and your business have to make in the world. Maybe take some time over lunch today or coffee tomorrow morning, take out a pen and a piece of paper and try answering those questions. If you find it hard, ask yourself this next question. What am I waiting for?