<Extract from Chapter 5 of Realpolitik “The CEO/Founder”>

“For a sole founder in particular it can be a very lonely journey”

It is a tough gig being a founder. A US stat I was told was that the average founder has failed four times before. This introduces the need for such folks to have their own support mechanism around them outside of any individual companies (which may come and go) to help them pick themselves back up off the floor.

As we shall see, NEDs have differing emphases on “supporting” vs “challenging” CEOs at the Board. However in the early stages of NewCo the emphasis has to be on supporting and spreading the word. It is for this reason that, regulatory credibility apart, BigCo NEDs are generally not sought at an early stage as their experience and skillset is at the Fire Safety Officer end of the spectrum not supporting Promethean acts. This angle of support is super-important:

“For me my Board/NEDs provide perspective, balance, a sounding board, coach, mentor, stress-relief.” [CEO]

“I certainly sought the advice of my NEDs, being a CEO is a lonely job. Has to be a relationship there to be supportive whilst within professional boundaries of course.” [CEO]

This support angle can be addressed in different ways. A minority of NEDs see their role as “not providing a nannying-service”. I respect all my interviewees all of whose views are based on hard experience. However there is a long long road from NewCo to FTSE and I wouldn’t advise starting the journey with only NEDs whose methodology emphasises “challenge”. At some point along the journey when you are less of an infant and more of a teenager then perhaps more challenge will be helpful.

At some point most(/all?) CEOs find a “challenging” to, at worst, “hostile” Board and at that point if they need support and it does not come from the Board then it can, indeed needs to, come from elsewhere:

“CEOs start off having NED/Advisor/Mentor – the name doesn’t matter, the role does.”

More broadly, away from the personal support, there is the question of the depth of relationship with your Board. The rosy scenario is that you have a Board containing available folk of great experience, knowledge or connections who can help you grow the company faster:

“I see my [independents] for coffee every couple of weeks.”