Back to the complete issue
Thursday, 19 July 2018

What do you do when your company’s charismatic founder goes cuckoo?

What do you do when your company’s charismatic founder goes cuckoo? Make sure you have a succession plan. It is looking increasingly certain that we have moved beyond the age of worshipping gilded titans and company founders. We are now in an age of their annoying younger brothers, or as the FT’s Brooke Masters puts it, “entrepreneurs who succeeded initially but then failed to come up with a succession plan — or worse, stayed on so long that they became an embarrassment or a hindrance to the company.” “Focusing a company around a charismatic founder makes a lot of sense early on. It can help create a compelling story that attracts top-quality staff as well as customers,” says Noam Wasserman, a University of Southern California professor. But there are also “heightened risks [that] come when the infallible founder has strong control of company decisions, with no real checks on him”, Wasserman warns.

The case studies pile up: Masters does a great job in racking up the list of companies who failed to plan for their founders exit. There was Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, whose railing against the NFL protests and racial slurs forced the company to fire him, leaving it without a leader. Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s fall was well documented. And while his replacement Dara Khosrowshahi has stepped up, his early moments in the driver’s seat was marked by a focus to change the tone and defuse regulatory fights. WPP founder Martin Sorrell’s exit is a case in point, after he left amid allegations of personal misconduct. Three months on, WPP is still being led by its chairman.

The answer? Look to big finance: Wasserman suggests that the smartest path is to plan for a staged withdrawal, much as the big private equity firms Blackstone, Carlyle and KKR are starting to do with their founding partners. “Each firm has elevated likely successors and is giving them time to settle in.”

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2022 Enterprise Ventures LLC.

Enterprise is available without charge thanks to the generous support of HSBC Egypt (tax ID: 204-901-715), the leading corporate and retail lender in Egypt; EFG Hermes (tax ID: 200-178-385), the leading financial services corporation in frontier emerging markets; SODIC (tax ID: 212-168-002), a leading Egyptian real estate developer; SomaBay (tax ID: 204-903-300), our Red Sea holiday partner; Infinity (tax ID: 474-939-359), the ultimate way to power cities, industries, and homes directly from nature right here in Egypt; CIRA (tax ID: 200-069-608), the leading providers of K-12 and higher level education in Egypt; Orascom Construction (tax ID: 229-988-806), the leading construction and engineering company building infrastructure in Egypt and abroad; Moharram & Partners (tax ID: 616-112-459), the leading public policy and government affairs partner; Palm Hills Developments (tax ID: 432-737-014), a leading developer of commercial and residential properties; Mashreq (tax ID: 204-898-862), the MENA region’s leading homegrown personal and digital bank; Industrial Development Group (IDG) (tax ID:266-965-253), the leading builder of industrial parks in Egypt; Hassan Allam Properties (tax ID:  553-096-567), one of Egypt’s most prominent and leading builders; and Saleh, Barsoum & Abdel Aziz (tax ID: 220-002-827), the leading audit, tax and accounting firm in Egypt.