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Founder to CEO Transition: What’s Your Role Once Your New CEO is On Board?

Ori Eisen | Leadership

Editor’s note: This is the fifth post in a series aimed at founders who are considering hiring a professional CEO to run their company. The author, Ori Eisen, is a member of Georgian Partners’ Advisory Board. As the founder of 41st Parameter, the leader in online fraud intervention, he underwent the transition from founder to CEO himself prior to selling the business in 2013. The previous post in the series was on how to maximize your new CEO’s chances of success. If you missed it, you can also check out the first post on the founder to CEO transition.

In my last post, I talked about the importance of sharing expectations with your new CEO prior to hiring that person. Assuming you’ve done so, by the time the CEO comes on board, you should already have some specific guidelines in place that dictate where each of your roles begins and ends. Importantly, you’ve got to stick to that and make sure that you’re communicating it effectively to employees and the market alike.

If you’re a technical founder, there’s a good chance that you’ll wind up assuming the role of chief product officer, a position that will allow you to drive the spark, innovation and vision necessary to propel the product you created forward. If you’re a respected authority in your industry, chances are that you should also remain the face of the company who is responsible for communicating your vision for both your product and the business to the rest of the world.

No matter what your role winds up becoming, however, the key is to make sure that you’re happy with it and that it allows you to both shine and add tremendous value to the company. Done right, you’ll be able to dedicate more of your time to your product then when you also had to run the company — something that you’re probably going to be excited about.

Importantly, however, you’ve got to remember to make room for your new CEO, taking care not to overstep your role, particularly in front of other employees. He or she will be responsible for running the company — including overseeing all of its employees — and you’ve got to respect that and make a conscious effort not to usurp his or her authority.

This is particularly important when it comes to interacting with other employees in the company. For example, an employee could easily mistake a passing comment you make about the need to count bookings a different way as a directive that you’ve discussed with the CEO and that needs to be addressed right away. That may not seem like a big deal, but when the CEO sees the new booking definition, he or she will want to know why the change was made. Learning that you were behind it could easily lead to conflict.

To work well together, you and your new CEO need to learn how to dance with each other like two hedgehogs would. In other words, you’ve got to learn to interact with one another slowly and gently so that you don’t wind up inadvertently pricking each other. One way to help ensure success is to make sure that everyone, including you the founder, reports to the CEO.

You also need to be sure to communicate clearly to employees with a crisp, simple message. In it, you should explain to employees that you’re:

  • Staying with the company
  • Keeping an active/operational role
  • Potentially going to be the face of the company for PR purposes
  • Going to report to the CEO as a member of his or her executive team
  • Going to continue to be a driving force for the company.

They key to being successful as a founder once your new CEO is in place is to understand that while you’re no longer in charge, you still have a very valuable role to play in helping the company grow. It’s also important to remember that your position could change over time. As such, always make an effort to contribute, add value and support your CEO any way that you can, and be open to potential changes in your responsibilities. Pull that off, and you and your new CEO will both be much better off for it.