Journey from Entrepreneur to CEO


Katherine Catlin & Jane Matthews

Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, 2001, 134 pp.  

ISBN 0-7645-5366-6


Both authors are consultants for CEOs.  This is a significant niche book showing how an entrepreneur’s roles must change to sustain a rapidly growing and flourishing business.  It includes many useful insights from entrepreneurs who were interviewed.  Note how the title contains all the right catchwords.


The book itself has a mission:  “The mission of Leading at the Speed of Growth is to enable many more entrepreneurs to be great leaders of growth companies.”


Chapter 1:  The Challenge of Growth

As your company grows, it needs to change and your role must evolve to match those changes. (3)


Behaviors and habits that succeed at one stage can contribute to failure at the next stage. (4)


In the Start-up phase you are the Doer and the Decision Maker. (5)


Vital Signs of Classic Entrepreneurial Strengths include (see p. 6 for complete list):

·        Visionary and pioneering

·        Seeing possibilities others don’t

·        Always searching for new opportunities and challenges

·        Passionate and energetic


Three stages of growth after Start-Up: Initial Growth, Rapid Growth, Continuous Growth.  (9)


Chapter 2 Initial Growth

Initial Growth Warning Flags (see list on pp. 15,16)

·        Not enough time in the day.

·        Impossible to make all the decisions

·        Bankers have questions you can’t answer


“Your role now is to decide where the company should be headed, delegate tasks to others so they can help you take the company there, then monitor progress....” (17)


To prepare the company for initial growth (see list on p. 18)

·        Articulate and reinforce your vision

·        Be conscious of your own personal values and goals

·        Watch the critical performance indicators

·        Hire multitalented people whose values match yours


“Delegating is not abdicating.  You still have oversight authority and control, but you’re passing primary responsibility onto others.”  (20)


“If someone you’ve hired doesn’t have values compatible with those of the company, get them out, quickly....” (20)


Personal Transitions Required (See more on pp. 21-22)

·        Change from a reactive to a proactive style.

·        Decide what to let go and what to keep.

·        Stop making all the decisions and answering all the questions.

·        Trust others.


“Gather information from everyone, but make the bit strategic decisions yourself.  Make them fast.  Don’t compromise your values.  Follow your instincts.  You have to filter all the advice you get.” (24)


“Plans help create the future you want by pointing everyone in the right direction.”  “Even though plans change, we would never be able to make decisions if we didn’t craft those plans in the first place.” (26,27)


“Persistence and consistency are key, and the key to consistency is having clear goals and plans.” (27)


Summary: Initial Growth Stage. 

Bullet lists under the categories of Company Goals; Company Characteristics; and Red Flags: signals for Changing Your Role; Dangers if You Don’t Change; Key Leadership Roles, Critical Responsibilities; Personal Changes to Make in Your Leadership Role. (29-31)


Chapter 3. Rapid Growth

“Navigating the Initial Growth stage requires that you develop a strategy, a structure, and adopt a more proactive leadership style.” (34)


Red Flags: (see list pp. 35-36)

·        The pressures are mounting.  Too hard to get things done.

·        Product and market development must expand.

·        Constant shortages and delays

·        Competitive heat


“I learned that I was a terrible listener and was stifling ideas and insights of others by making my own statement after each person made theirs.” (37)


Four new roles: Team Builder, Coach, Planner, Communicator (37-38)


Focus your time and energy on building your management team, a shared plan, and a strong infrastructure.  Be more proactive in recognizing what the company needs.  (38)


“Be ruthlessly honest in determining your own personal strengths and weaknesses as well as those of your original team.  Get feedback from people you trust.”  “Define gaps where you need additional expertise and experience.” (39)


“There needs to be a lot of leaders in one organization.  One thing a leader does is create other leaders.” (41)


“You must constantly be focused on the big picture and reminding people of the direction....” (41)


“As Coach, you delegate responsibility, provide guidance, and help each team member succeed by doing four things:

1.     Clearly define each individual’s role and areas of accountability.

2.     Set goals together that foster cooperation and synergy.

3.     Assign responsibility and authority to make specific types of decisions.

4.     Delineate parameters for other decisions that require your input and/or the input of other team members.” (42)


“Allow these individuals to use their strengths and do their jobs.  Give frequent feedback....” (42)


Planner:  “You need to guide a participative process that addresses key questions about your company: Who are we? Why are we better than anyone else? What’s our ’unfair’ competitive advantage: Where is the best opportunity for market leadership?” (43)


“If you’re trying to figure out what your business is about, you’ve got to get that done quickly.”  “You can’t define a game plan unless you know where you’re going.” (43-44)


“A plan defines the focal points of mission, vision, values, and market-driven strategy.  It also creates a guide for the development of functional plans, individual job-performance standards, and measurement systems that tie directly to the compensation systems.” (47)


Communicator:  “Communication is incredibly important.  It’s impossible to over-communicate with your executive team or the rest of the staff.  There’s no way to do it.” (48)


“Vision is like orange juice.  It’s good for you and you need to drink it every day.” (49)


“What does it mean for a company to be successful?  How do you define success?  Success is simply measured as serving your constituencies well.  It’s not profits.” (50)


“The main point of our management meetings is to reach a consensus.  A lot of people misunderstand what that means.  It’s not the same as unanimous.  It means that everyone has input, a decision gets made, and everyone agrees to live with that decision will full support and commitment....” (51-2)


Vital Signs: Keys to Effective Teamwork (see full descriptions on p. 54):

·        Manage your team as a group.

·        Encourage teamwork through exchange of ideas with open feedback.

·        Hold meetings you ‘love.’

·        Maintain alignment in the group.


“You have to hire the right people who hire the right people who hire the right people.  If people are not philosophically aligned to your value set, you can’t change them.”  “I can teach people skills.  I just can’t teach them to have a set of values.”  “The worst situation is when people have terrific skills but don’t fit the values.” (59)


Summary of Rapid Growth Stage (see subpoints on pp. 65-66):

Company Goals, Company Characteristics, Red Flags, Dangers if You Don’t Change, Key Leadership Roles, Critical Responsibilities Personal Changes to Make in Your Leadership Style


Chapter 4.  Continuous Growth

What you have to do to continue growing:

·        Find new markets.

·        Grow new niches in the current market.

·        Expand product lines.

·        Provide more ‘total solutions’ to help customers.

·        Brand the company and its people as thought leaders.


Continuous growth requires continual transformations.  (73)


Red Flags: (see complete list on p. 73 ff.):

·        You need to spend most of your time outside the company....

·        You are frustrated that no one seems to have the same sense of urgency...

·        The organization begins to feel unwieldy.

·        Your role as CEO keeps expanding....


Four new roles: (77)

·        Change Catalyst

·        Organization Builder

·        Strategic Innovator

·        Chief of Culture


“As strategic company leaders, each member of the team must work with you on these aspects of leadership:

·        Creating a strategic plan for growth

·        Setting the company’s direction and communicating consistent messages to gain alignment

·        Hiring and retaining awesome people

·        Building a culture and organization that support continual growth

·        Making sure the team’s work is a role model for all teams

·        Learning from each other and fully leveraging their different skills” (86)


“Culture has to be felt, not just heard.  It can’t be delegated.  It really is the CEO’s job.” (93)


“Every company has a culture that either motivates of demotivates performance.  You must shape your culture to support the pattern of development you want.” (93)


“Culture comes from values.  I happen to have personal values.  It’s my prerogative as CEO to never waiver from my set of values.  They create our culture, and I’m firm with people about it.  This is it.” (930


“To establish and maintain such a culture you need to do three things:  Institutionalize core values, create the Seven C’s of Culture, and devise appropriate reward and recognition systems.” (93-4)


“There core values must e based on your own internal beliefs about the right ways to operate to achieve success as a company.”  “Once the values are in written form, they can be used as criteria for everyone to make decisions and prioritize tasks throughout the company.  Then, everyone must be held accountable to these values—especially you!” (94)


“Values are also essential in the hiring, orientation, training, and performance review processes.  Your role is to demonstrate them in all your actions and activities, and to require your managers to deliver consistent messages, provide opportunities for everyone to learn about the values and understand what it means to ‘live by them.’  Being explicit about what you will and won’t tolerate, and why, is one of the most powerful leadership tools you have for crating the culture of a great company.” (94)


Culture is the environment that influences how well people perform.” (96)


Vital Signs: The Seven C’s of Culture (for descriptions see p. 97)

·        Customer and Market Focus

·        Communication

·        Collaboration

·        Creativity

·        Continuous Learning

·        Change Management

·        Constructive Leadership


Personal Transitions Required: (for full list with descriptions see pp. 98-102)

·        Make Strategy Your Major Focus

·        Let Go

·        Watch Your Timing

·        Manage the Transition and Manage the Context

·        Share Leadership with Your Team


“One thing that is absolutely critical is a thing I call RUF, Raw, Unvarnished Feedback.  You have to solicit it.  You have to accept it.  As a human, sometimes you don’t like what you hear.  It might make you grind your teeth.  It might make you want to roll your eyes.  But have to solicit it.  You have to accept it.  You have to be able to give it.” (105)


Chapter 5.  Keeping It All in Perspective

“Successful entrepreneurial leaders say that in order to manage each stage of your company’s growth, you need to know eight things: yourself, your role, your company, your customers, your environment, your people, your future, and your potential.” (115)


Keys to Leading at the Speed of Growth (description of all items on pp. 117 ff.)

·        Be an organization builder.

·        Anticipate transitions and guide the company through them.

·        Hire and leverage awesome people.

·        Use your entrepreneurial strengths to build leadership skills

·        Stick to your values

·        Look in the mirror (Know your strengths and weaknesses.)


Pitfalls:  (full list with descriptions, pp. 123-125).

·        Not listening.  “Many entrepreneurs have a hard time listening to the ideas of others.  You need to balance your self-confidence with a willingness to listen to, and incorporate, other people’s perspectives, feedback, ideas, and visions.” (123)

·        Failing to Focus the Company

·        Not Communicating Enough

·        Mismanaging New Hires

·        Avoiding Tough Decisions

·        Failing to Add New Skills and Knowledge

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