Time to Move On?

So, if you are beginning to question your own competence to run the tasks you currently do, check out the following. If many of these look familiar, it is time to get help.

Last week, I was moderating a TiE Panel in Bangalore with three industry experts who spoke on the subject of how an Entrepreneur-CEO should plan his or her own career. Like any other role in an organization that needs planning, nourishing and systematic care, the role of the CEO also needs the same careful attention.

The idea revolved around a basic concept – when a CEO experiences personal growth, the individual buoys the company up. Such growth on a sustained basis, is not an accident. It is therefore that behind high-performance companies, stand high-performance CEOs.

Take for example Andy Grove of Intel.

The forty years or so he spent at Intel can be equally divided into 10-year periods of being a start-up entrepreneur-cum-chip designer, the chief operating officer, then the chief executive officer and finally, as the chairman of the board. David Yoffie, Professor at Harvard University and long standing member of the Intel Board, told me once that it was as if they were four different people; such was the transformative, personal growth experienced by Grove.

We see similar cases in India when we look at the career trajectories of CEOs like Ratan Tata or a Narayana Murthy. Why is it that some CEOs keep growing and some hit the glass ceiling? What can an entrepreneur-CEO do to keep growing? These were the conversation pieces at the TiE Panel had. The Panel members were Hema Ravichandar – the much talked about HR and Strategy consultant who saw Infosys grow up, Dr. Pallab Bandyopadhyay of Perot systems and Rishi Das, founder-CEO of Career Net. Towards the end, the Panel took questions and as happens in case of any engaging Panel, we ran out of time for that one all important question that came at the end: What are the signs that should tell an Entrepreneur-CEO that it is time to get help? May be, move away to the next role within or to sometimes, move out? It came from an entrepreneur-CEO in the audience; so it wasn’t your typical idle question at the end of a session.

Leadership requires what Peter Drucker termed “planned abandonment” – only that leader who can let go can experience planned abandonment so that the individual may expand his or her capacity and in the process, take the organization along. Inability to do so stifles the organization. The sad news is that there is no one to tell the entrepreneur-CEO, because of the very position the individual holds, that he indeed is the cause of his own, and the organization’s stagnation.

I have been pondering over the question on tell-tale signs for the last few days and I finally decided to take a crack at the question myself. I want to share a few situations with those who are interested in the subject – these situations, if evident in multiple numbers in the life of an entrepreneur-CEO, should send the signals that it is time to get someone smarter for the job and move up or move on. So, if you are beginning to question your own competence to run the tasks you currently do, check out the following. If many of these look familiar, it is time to get help.

1. Your books of accounts are not current for successive quarters. Closing the books has been a big ordeal. You do not believe in the numbers yourself. You are having trouble understanding what your chartered accountant is talking about. Your cheques have bounced a few times.

2. You are leaving office everyday around dinner time for the last six months.

3. For the third time, you have missed the delivery deadline.

4. When a recent significant prospect visited you, you were at a loss to understand what she was talking about. Her language was Greek and Latin to your ears even as you kept nodding intelligently through the conversation.

5. Your people are not confiding in you anymore. No one seems to disagree with you on anything you say. You sense false harmony when you are around.

6. You have lost 2 of your top 5 accounts last quarter.

7. You no longer understand your own manufacturing process or that of your best competitors.

8. Recently, you were at an international tradeshow – you felt lost.

9. You have crossed sales of Rs. 100 crores. But you really have no clue of the differences between sales and
marketing functions.

10. You have been feeling irritable at home. You cannot focus. You do not finish a book and can not sit through a movie. During the last vacation, you went to bed every night thinking about work.

11. You believe you have a second-rate team. You cannot imagine in what significant way they can grow up and become valuable to themselves and to others. You sometimes do not know what to do with them.

12. You have lost 3 key people in sales and cannot understand why.

13. You had a great ride for three years. You have no idea what the next three years would be like.

14. You do not seem to know the top three weak spots of your business, which when taken, could get you
out of business.

15. You have failed to raise the second round of funding.

16. You know the market is in Europe. You just have not been able to get there. You somehow do not like selling and feel awkward opening doors for sales calls.

17. You did a fantastic job with one customer or in one vertical or in one geo. For 18 months, you have tried but you simply cannot break into others.

18. You feel that you are physically slowing down.

19. You go to the Club during daytime.

20. You know that the business has potential but you feel as if you are a single-engine, two-seater aircraft of World War II vintage.

21. You read comics at work and have caught yourself surfing the Net for trivia. Personal friends drop in while you at work and you enjoy it.

22. Your wife is feeling bitter about how much time you are giving to the family.

23. You missed your flight thrice in the last three months. You feel lethargic to go to work.

24. You do not remember the names of the top people of all your 10 customers.

25. You were cheated thrice in the last one year.

26. You are ten years older than most of your buyers.

27. It has been three years since you started the business. You are obsessive about designing the marketing collaterals by yourself.

28. You hate to travel.

29. You have defaulted in filing statutory returns and pay the taxes even though there was money in the bank.

30. For the third year in a row, you are not profitable.

31. Three of your clients have complained about poor quality and you really do not know how the issue could be fixed – you have yelled at your people but that is not helping.

32. Your competitor is growing faster than you; the industry is growing faster than you as well.

33. Your competitor’s sourcing baffles you.

34. You just did not have time to exercise in the last six months, have not taken a vacation for a year. You
do not have an active hobby and have not helped with the children’s homework as far back as you can

35. You have not invested in R&D in the last three years after finding success with the initial product and your competition is doubling their R&D investment.

36. You do not get any Press, your competitor does. You do not know why.

37. You have not learnt any new word in the last one year. You have not gone to a new tradeshow in the same period. You have not added any new book to your reading list. You have not landed in a new airport in the same period.

38. You have the same set of professional friends and you discuss the same thing over beer.

39. You have not met a customer in the last three months. You do not feel like.

40. You know three positions need filling up in your company. You believe you need to meet the candidates yourself. You simply did not have the time.

The problem with being an entrepreneur and a CEO is that you are a Type-A personality, it is your own show and no one will come to shape your career for you. You have to read the signs, watch yourself and make way for more competent people. If you do not vacate your existing ground, how would you take a new one?

“Overall, the job of a CEO”, says my long-time friend and Professor at the Penn State University, Ragu Garud, “is to lead. It is not to fight fires. Leading requires the ability to create frameworks that others may use and that needs energy, power and connections”. Further away you are from that state, lesser you are doing your real job. It isprobably time to consider “planned abandonment”

With that, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers. I will connect with you all in 2009!

Anonymous Says
Wednesday December 24th 2008

That is a wonderful list and I am amazed how much we can learn from it.

I’ll add a few more to the list. To me, a project manager also is the CEO of the team, the General Manager the CEO of the account and so on.

But, I’ll focus on the GM of a big account, as the entry barrier PM role in Indian High Tech companies have gone very very low: mostly on years of experience that they have added by sitting there. If you ask them to be a Sun Certified Architect and/or a PMP/Prince2 professional, they cringe. Or even if you ask them standard techniques like EVM, DTA, Monte Carlo etc, they have no idea what to say. It is status reporting all the way, which is 1 day work in a week.

1. You have no idea or very few ideas on what new technologies can do. It can be Cloud Computing, Virtualization etc and you read couple of pages from Wiki and other notes and remain totally baffled.

2. You do not have time to personally verify 5 projects in your company/account. (Say your company/account is having 50 projects = 10% at random)

Lot of them go by %age of completion from the project managers. It is another matter that %age of completion if meaningless in software. But what is important is – do you have the pulse for the shift of your client by having your hands dirty?

3. You have stopped interacting with your team on a public basis and never addressed them in last 6 months. I was in a well known CMMi5/PCMM5 level company and in my entire stay the GM never ever addressed the team. I could feel the low moral impact it had on everyone.

I finally understood the reason when I met him. He was just not the person to lead. He was a political guy and knew how to survive. To even address and take questions, you need pure character.

4. You keep on sending quarterly mails to your team members telling how is you operating margin, your bottom line profit etc, but never ever make them understand how important is it for them to understand its value as an employee (= how much money they are actually worth as a MSFT or GOOG does)

5. You hate using new technologies as a medium of communication or even if you do, it is eyewash. Like blogs, using via Facebook/Myspace etc.

I am appalled and amazed to see show many of them ignore it.

6. You have no idea on where the future of the company is going. And you keep on giving random numbers: last year statement will be no impact of slowdown and this year statement will be 15% growth: as if it is so hard to tell – “I do not know for sure”.

7. You have scaled heavily and have seriously compromised on quality. And in the downturn, when anyway you have to let go some of them (in the first place you allowed recruitment of D grades), you do it one by one impacting everyone.

Debachou Says
Wednesday December 24th 2008

It’s terrific, wonderful to read the article. I have a query :
How come Chairman of Satyam , considered to be an outstanding leader , can commit such thing which put the entire organization into a tizzy and being a CEO what was his failure and how he should have handled this issue and what is the lession learnt ?

L Says
Wednesday December 24th 2008

Dear Gardener,
Happy New Year. It is an exhaustive list, I hope you will use it in your next book.
Best regards,

John Micheal Says
Thursday December 25th 2008

Merry Christmas Sir, may almighty god bless you with good health, peace and happiness in life.

J.A Says
Friday December 26th 2008

@ Debachou

My 2 cents…

Satyam is a case of corporate goverance failure. What is more shameful is the Worldbank statement. The statement read:

“Satyam was declared ineligible for contracts for providing improper benefits to Bank staff and for failing to maintain documentation to support fees charged for its subcontractors,”

Worldbank has today standby its statement after Satyam’s demand for apology! (They had spines to ask for apology also and one board of director has resigned)

And I am 100% aware that many top IT services companies follow unethical practices (gifts are unethical = bribing) to secure deals. But they advertise on high moral values, great integrity, superior ethics and so on.

I am just worried if they will be exposed by some other company statements now. That will be shameful route and beyound all, it will lead to more heartburn with lost contracts and jobs – especially jobs in a deep recessionary market! God forbid!

Friday December 26th 2008

Dear Subroto,

Another amazing post which we all can learn from. We hope to read a lot more through your blog in the coming year and better ourselves. Thanks so much. Wish you and your family a merry christmas and a happy new year ’09.

Somali Chakrabarti Says
Saturday December 27th 2008

Dear Sir,

Today I chanced upon the book Go Kiss the World. Once I started reading, I could not just put it down till I had reached the last page. It is very inspirational. You have highlighted the significance of learning continuously through both formal and informal means and its influence in shaping up one’s personality. Your book also encourages professionals to extend values such as integrity, dedication and passion to the corporate scenario; not to forget the need to own the responsibilty of the choices made and their consequences. Thanks for providing the readers with such an enriching experience.

Manoj Singh Says
Saturday December 27th 2008

it’s a nice list but many things which mentioned here should not be attained in the life cycle of a company by an entrepreneur CEO.
Good lessons and could be more effective if we do our self critical analysis keeping best interest of company.


Arunudoy Says
Saturday January 3rd 2009


Today 1PM, I picked up your book Go Kiss the World and by 8PM, I finished reading cover to cover. Well I felt, if it went beyond that too.

I connected to your story of childhood as I am too a first generation Indian, born to parents who had been displaced from East Pakistan. It was like I visited my childhod again.

Sir, wanted to know something, how was it possible for you to shine and walk up the ladder of sucess in an Industry which only looks for BE’s, B.Tech’s and MBA’s from Premier institutes.

How was it possbile that when in daily life we see people with no sense of History of domain or organisation land up positions to bring in change just because they have been formally taught within High walls of theoritical education.

What drove you to learn, how did you pick up the IT trade which for outsiders like us seems to be domain of Technocrats and MBA’s. How did you shape your mind to learn more & more?

Though you are a Gardener to MindTree but I believe it’s time you spread your knowledge to Smaller towns and give the Youth and Child a sense of direction, and I am confident that there would be many more success stories.

Sir, salute you for your story and the direction.

Regards …… Arunudoy

Ramanath Pattnaik Says
Saturday January 3rd 2009

Dear Subroto,

Wishing you Happy Prosperous & Healthy New year – 2009
It is fabulous to read this article, looking forward to see more articles and books this year.

Ramanath Pattnaik
Aztec-Mindtree Mind

Monday January 5th 2009

Dear Sir,
Gospel truth. This was really an exhaustive list. One can always assess oneself based on these criterias .It needs to put under the glass of one’s table to sense signals of impending perils. This can b used by ceos during his / her own appraisal.
Wishing you exciting year ahead.

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