Grist: Save the Founder

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From Inc Magazine, by Adam Hanft

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard it, I could start another business: Entrepreneurs are passionate people, great at building companies, but only to a certain level.

As their enterprises reach maturity, these impatient, impetuous founders need to be replaced by ‘professional’ managers. It’s a stereotype that’s become a truism. In VC land they even have a name for the problem: founderitis.

The most recent public eruption of this hypothesis occurred when celebrated its 10th anniversary, and the media openly wondered whether it was time for Jeff Bezos to surrender control. Give me a break. That same logic came close to destroying Apple. You know the story: In 1985, convinced the company had outgrown its founder, the board dismissed Steve Jobs and handed the reins to John Scully – a packaged-goods guy, a branding maven, whom Jobs had wooed from Pepsi two years earlier. Scully, of course, failed either to expand the company in the computer market or to innovate elsewhere, and in 1993 was replaced by Michael Spindler, who in turn was replaced by Gil Amelio – neither of whom did much better. Jobs returned as interim CEO in 1997, dropped the interim in 2000, and the rest is white-earbud history.

The lesson is obvious. The notion that entrepreneurs outlive their usefulness is both stunningly wrong-headed and potentially dangerous — especially now. It’s universally acknowledged that today’s business environment is faster-moving and more unpredictable than ever. And those are precisely the conditions that cry out for more, not less, of the founder’s restless spirit. Indeed, the very skills and qualities that gave rise to a business at the outset are what’s needed when companies find themselves in a constant state of re-creation. No business, however “mature,” needs mere tending. But all businesses require sparking. Entrepreneurship needs to be a chronic condition.”

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