Warren Stephens, an American businessman who founded and runs his own investment bank, made the following observation. “In our experience, what we have found the rarest commodity is a good management team. And good management teams manage through good and bad cycles and manage to grow their business over a long period of time.”
This is a man who runs his slide rule over businesses every day, whether it be for acquisitions, mergers, IPOs or other corporate transactions. It’s interesting that he rarely finds a strong management team in the businesses he deals with and advises. A strong management team is one of the most vital things you need to get in place when building and growing your business and yet it’s one of the hardest things to get right.
When you start out, it’s natural that most of the management strategy and decision making falls to you – after all, you’ve been the one with the vision and the drive to start the company and to build the business in the first place. But there comes a point along the way where, for the business to grow, you need to start building a management team. And not just any old management team, but a strong management team with the right mix of personalities, skills and experience.
It’s important to realise that you won’t get every management appointment right. Some people can talk a good game but fail to deliver in practice, whilst others may not come over as well at interview but are nonetheless highly effective in the role. It takes time and experience to learn what type of person works and doesn’t work in your business and also that depends on the role in question.
It’s also essential to remember that as the business grows, your management team may need to change over time as well. You may find that someone who is brilliant at managing five people or ten people is hopelessly out of their depth when their team grows to fifty people. As the leader in the business you need to be on the constant watch out for the warning signs that someone is struggling or that the department and consequent responsibilities have grown too much for them.
At that point, you have two options – if you think it’s a skills issue but the person has promise, you may want to invest in training and development to help him or her move up to the next level. But if you think they’ve reached their ceiling, then it may be time to say goodbye if you want your business to continue to grow and flourish with the right leadership.
At Peninsula, I look around my management team and I’m really proud of the depth of expertise they embody. I have a huge amount of confidence in their abilities, judgement and professionalism. It’s been a long road to build the right team but I don’t think we’ve ever had a stronger group running the business across the different departments and the many regions and countries where we are now present.
Management is always a balancing act – as the leader of the business you need to give people enough room to grow, to develop, to make their own decisions and sometimes to make their own mistakes. But you also need not to allow them too much leeway, so that the business is never at any overall risk from poor individual decision making - because ultimately that’s your responsibility.
Theodore Roosevelt said: “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” I’d add a caveat – hire the best people you possibly can and be sure to avoid meddling, but never take your eye off the ball either.