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Business Owners Look Around the Corner. What’s Looking Back?

Strategic business owners know where they want to go. But as they look around that next corner, their best planning won’t always prepare them for what may be looking back at them.

Whether they’re like Colonel Custer (or like General Eisenhower), leaders of every enduring business address continuing uncertainties. Even after years of success, business leadership is a continuing adventure. Strategic business owners know where they want to go. But as they look around that next corner, their best planning won’t always prepare them for what may be looking back at them.

In the mature stage of his thriving business, Stanley Richards, the former majority owner of the Richards Corporation, confided to us that he foresaw the approach of new competitive challenges. To help narrow the risks and sustain successes, Mr. Richards tapped the diverse experiences of his network of colleagues and experts. He also recruited a number of new executives who had the experiences and track records that he would need (including new operations, and sales executives).

They brought their varied experiences to better recognize and address coming obstacles and opportunities. Despite his own expertise and decades of experiences, they brought unique and essential experiences that he didn’t have. Mr. Richards also hired a new CEO to replace himself and within 18 months, the improvements in the company’s performance and its value were stunning.

More recently, we spoke with two business trailblazers who had established themselves and their new company to design and produce an innovative product for an emerging industry. The trajectory of their early successes has been fueled by entrepreneurial optimism, unfazed by myriad potential obstacles. At the point where we first met, they were facing some unfamiliar business life cycle complexities. They had conceived and launched their business and built the initial foundation, yet the business was now rounding a corner, being greeted by some new challenges.

As they now ponder the addition of seasoned and proven leaders, they’re best advised to not tap talent from a large established company as they would be a misfit for the culture, resources and early stage complexities. Nor will they attract others from their industry, as there is not yet an established “industry.” The right leadership talent for them will bring early growth stage experiences, from parallel industries, with related technologies, who have effectively served similar customer bases.

Staffs with identical experiences to their owners bring only redundant perspectives. More of the same may work in a survival mode but will only mirror, not complement, their owners’. Is that a light at the end of a tunnel, or an approaching train? If no one on staff has ever seen a train, they’re certain it’s the tunnel’s end.

Regardless of how smart and insightful we may be, rounding the corner to tomorrow will still be uncertain. The late dean of American business, Peter Drucker advised, “It is what we have to do today to be ready for an uncertain tomorrow.

In contemplating his tomorrow, another business owner recently told us that he will know “it” when he sees it. Unfortunately, at that point, he will already have rounded his next corner.


Stan Davis is the Founding Principal of Standish Executive Search, a New England-based firm that advises business owners, executives and boards who are positioning their companies for accelerated growth, change or succession.

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