14/12/2011

By Gerard Burke, Founder And MD, Your Business Your Future

We hear much about the need to encourage more people to take the entrepreneurial plunge and start a business. Leaving aside the argument about whether encouraging more start-ups is the most effective way to stimulate growth, I wonder whether more entrepreneurs is really what the country needs.

Every owner manager knows that they can’t build a significant business on their own. They will need to build a management team. Indeed, it’s almost become trite to hear VCs and other investors talk about investing in the “management team” not just the entrepreneur.

And, we also know, from our experience of working with hundreds of ambitious owner managers, that one of the things they find most challenging is finding the right people to be part of their management team. Typically, they keep trying to recruit a second-in-command or specific senior roles – and it keeps on “not working out”.

Now part of this may be to do with the emotional challenge that many owner managers face in allowing other people to do jobs that they previously used to do themselves and finding that, inevitably, those other people don’t do those jobs in quite the same way the owner manager did. So, they start to closely monitor the people they’ve taken on and meddle in their work. Both the owner manager and the other people get increasingly frustrated and, eventually, something has to give. Usually, the other people leave, either of their own choice or because the owner manager sacks them in exasperation.

This situation, that we see many, many times, means that the business gets stuck and can’t grow.

So, here’s a radical thought… if we want more of the fast-growth businesses which create the majority of jobs in any developed economy, the so-called “gazelles”, maybe what we need isn’t more entrepreneurs at all.

Maybe what we need is more people who can handle the peculiar set of conditions of working for an entrepreneur. More number 2s who can deal with the high passion and high expectation of the entrepreneur and can implement the entrepreneur’s ideas and visions, sometimes subjugating their own thoughts and feelings.

These paragons of virtue need to be able to challenge the entrepreneur, offer their own ideas and suggestions, and not mind when they get rejected. They will find themselves having to support the entrepreneur in making the difficult behavioural change described above. They need to be resilient, positive, hard-working, determined, challenging, supportive, brilliant at solving problems and getting things done, capable of delivering to extremely high standards, accepting that things won’t always be perfect, and self-aware – to name but a few of the personal characteristics needed for this most demanding of roles.

So, all praise the number 2. Without one, you and your business are likely to get stuck.

Of course, such people are incredibly rare! And, that’s why so many owner managers face such a tough time in finding them.

If you have one in your business, I suggest you do everything you can to keep them! Provide them with whatever resources and skills they need in order to do their job better.

Recognise and reward them for the contribution they make to your business. Make them into a hero.

Oh, and if you know any one who fits this bill, tell them to give me a call!