A Ship in the Harbor: Getting Clear on Charting Your Company’s Growth

“…but that’s not what ships were made for.”

I recently sat in on a meeting with a company at a crossroads.

The two founders had been friends since high school and, usually, they agreed right out of the gate on most things – or, at least, the things that really mattered. As for the rest, they worked to find consensus.

This time was different.

One partner, we’ll call him “Ken,” wanted the company to stay roughly at status quo. It provided a good living for the owners – more than good – and he wanted to keep it that way.

Ken didn’t care about making his mark. He just wanted to enjoy life, pay for his sons’ college and retire early, healthy and well.

The second partner, “Sally,” saw regional, if not national, growth potential.

To achieve that, Sally recognized that she and Ken would have to work harder and take out less for a five-year period before the investment paid off. But once it did, they could really make their mark. “Sure,” she thought, “a ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships were made for.”

Ken and Sally’s case is hardly unique. When they launched the company, they were of one mind when it came to setting strategic direction. They applied a singular work ethic and the company grew. Now, they were at a critical crossroads.

After extensive discussion – a conversation which continues to this day – Ken and Sally decided to explore two possibilities:

  1. Sally buys the company from Ken over time with an eye toward Ken becoming an employee. Ken would retain his Executive VP title, but Sally would end up as sole owner.
  2. Sally and Ken convert the current business into the local subsidiary. Sally would take sole ownership of a newly formed holding company, trading on the goodwill and branding of the current business, and pursue her goal of expansion.

Each path is strewn with its own complexities. The devil, as they say, is in the details. But Sally and Ken have taken the first most important, and most difficult, steps:

  • They realized not only that their interests had diverged, but also that reasonable people can disagree.
  • They also realized that the business would wither and likely die if either of them felt badgered to accept the dream of the other.
  • They agreed to take intentional action, rather than avoiding the hard work that comes with reconciling conflicting desires and charting out a growth plan.

Too often, business owners don’t take charge of:

  • Defining what growth and success mean for themselves and their company.
  • Determining their personal end game and the ultimate goal for the company.
  • Setting a plan for getting there.

The bottom line is that the only thing that grows solely for growth’s sake is cancer. Everything else requires a strategy.

What’s yours?

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