I love being the CEO of Billtrust. There are so many great things I get to do. I set strategic direction and make big product bets that we hope will change the industry. I meet a ton of incredibly interesting people in both the public and private markets. I work with an incredibly dedicated team of individuals that have a great time kicking the competition's butt. I also get to be the biggest voice around culture including one that I think is the most important - maintaining a healthy work / life balance (says the guy blogging on a Sunday morning :] ).
But being a CEO sucks some times and for me, it mostly sucks when it comes to people...specifically around letting people go.
Six or seven years ago I was at an Inc 500 conference and the speaker made the claim that companies will not break through the $50 Million revenue range unless they replace the majority of the management team. I was skeptical at first but then he discussed their exhaustive study of over 1,000 companies and the evidence was pretty strong. What separated the winners from the companies that stalled was overwhelming. If your management team doesn't grow with the company and you are slow to move, you will stall.
Billtrust is going through that phase now and it sucks. We've replaced several senior executives over the last nine months. These are people that have been responsible for a lot of our success. One could argue that it's not fair. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true. It's not fair to the other employees, shareholders, and customers to NOT make the move. That's the way I rationalize it so I don't feel even worse about it. I know it's the right thing to do, but I also know that the decision will have an enormous impact on the individual displaced.
I'm not advocating for wholesale change for the sake of change, that would be foolish. But the most important job for any CEO is to make sure they've got the right team in place at all times. It's not something you'll ever be done with. It's the CEO's job to groom, cajole, coach, counsel, encourage, and to provide consistent feedback to the senior leadship team. But ultimately it's the executive's responsibility to grow with the organization. And if they don't, they need to be moved to another role or be moved out. It sucks, but if I don't do it, then I'm letting the team down and the next conversation that I should be having is with the Board of Directors why I'm not cut out to be CEO of a high growth company.