My first week as chairman
5th August 2021 - First of all, I’d just like to express my thanks to all the people who have sent well wishes over the past week. As any CEO will tell you, moving into a chairman role is exciting but also daunting – it’s a step into the unknown – so it means a lot to see so many of you reach out.
I’m now most of the way through my first week as a chairman of BigChange so I thought I’d share some observations. Hopefully, these will be useful whether you’re a CEO considering moving into a chairman role or you’re just interested in the dynamics of such a transition.
At the start of the week, I’ll be honest, I felt a little lost. I spent time with my incredible PA removing myself from recurring sales meetings and catch-ups. Suddenly, my diary was looking emptier than ever before. Change is always challenging. I am so used to being involved in the day-to-day operations that, at first, it felt uncomfortable to move into more of a supporting role.
But it’s only when you step back that you give the brilliant people around you room to step up and be their best. This week has confirmed what I already believed: that Richard, our new CEO, has everything it takes to lead the company day to day. I’ve really enjoyed watching him take the lead on everyday decisions, and I continue to be inspired and delighted by his passion for this business.
So, what am I doing with my time now I’m not booked into meetings from 8am till 8pm? I am preparing to go to the US to drive BigChange’s expansion across that vast and incredible territory. We are targeting an aggressive expansion through acquisition as well as organic growth, so I have been looking at various exciting companies out there. I hope to have something to announce imminently!
Making progress on my plans for the US hasn’t been entirely straightforward, however. I’m in the midst of applying for a US visa but my son tested positive for Covid last weekend so the whole family is self-isolating. Luckily, the world is used to conducting high-level meetings via Teams and Zoom these days, so I’m not letting quarantine slow me down.
One of the best things about moving into a chairman role is that I am able to be so much more strategic about my planning for BigChange. It’s taking some getting used to, but I’m shifting my focus beyond the next quarter’s sales targets to a longer time frame – the next two to five years. I am having conversations now that may only bear fruit in 18 months. It’s a thoughtful and interesting approach to growth that I’m learning to love.
Getting out of back-to-back meetings has other benefits too. I recently met an impressive entrepreneur who sold his media business and has become an angel investor. We had 30 minutes in the diary for a quick chat and we ended up talking for two hours. Two weeks ago, that would have been impossible. As a result, he was able to tell me quite a bit about his portfolio companies and their challenges. This far-reaching conversation may help steer our product development while also generating some new customers for our platform.
When I was looking at moving from CEO to chairman, I read a lot of research about what it takes to make this transition successful. Many people believe that it’s impossible to successfully move to a chairman role in a business that you founded. Never attempt the move until you’ve held at least three non-executive director positions to learn the ropes, said one. Well, you know me, I love an impossible challenge. Instead, I’ve been surprised at how easy it has been to adapt to a new way of working and a new set of responsibilities.
But I have taken some advice on board. Other entrepreneurs, such as Ben Jones, co-founder of Bitwala, have said that it’s really important to give yourself some downtime once you become chairman. It’s the only way to truly get perspective on the business and work out the best application of your skills and time day-to-day. So I have booked a fortnight’s holiday – my first break of that length for as long as I can remember. I’m really looking forward to enjoying that downtime and giving my mind time to wander and explore new ideas. Who knows, I may even be able to train myself out of sleeping just five hours a night on that trip… But I doubt it.