Starbucks Howard Schultz is back in charge at Starbucks. He tried to leave and came back earlier this year to attempt to reverse the suffering the company is experiencing. Dell’s Michael recently returned to help steer Dell back to health. Other companies, who have founder with lesser known names, have recently seen their founding fathers return to the helm of leadership. Take a look at companies like Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Vonage who have seen their founders return.
Bill Gates, who needs no introduction to the world, spent his last day as CEO of Microsoft yesterday. His teary departure to lead the Gates Foundation has been much anticipated and is noble considering the difference he hopes to now make in the world. The question is will he be able to enjoy “retirement” or will he be needed again at Microsoft’s top spot? The answer to that question remains to be seen.
I have a theory that companies today will face this dilemma more than companies founded in years past. Could it be that because companies today begin with such an imprint of their founder in their DNA that it is becoming more difficult to pass the reigns of the top spot to another person? Study Starbucks and you have to study Howard Schultz. (He even wrote a book about it.) Look at Dell computers and you see Michael Dell all over the company philosophy. (Even in the name!) Companies today are very much an impression of their founders. Google’s corporate “fun” environment IS Larry Page. Every time I’ve heard Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, interviewed he describes the social network with a passion that only a founder could exhibit.
Companies are launching into their niche faster than ever before. The information age and technology allows for growth at a pace unknown in previous generations. Much of that growth is a direct reflection on the personality and passions of the founder who is seen in the public as the chief representative of the company. I’m not sure this has always been the case.
As we consider this phenomenon within corporate America, I can’t help but wonder if there are implications here for churches as well. Doesn’t Northpoint have the personality of Andy Stanley? Lifepoint certainlyembodies the imprint of Craig Groeschel. The same is true for Fellowship’s Ed Young, Jr. You can add your own to this list. What will happen when these leaders attempt to retire? Will we see them return as corporate founders have had to do? Again, the answer to that question remains to be seen.
This thought process does make me consider a few things organizations may want to consider in their beginning years:
1. Organizations must be thinking transition from the founding of the organization.
2. Organizations must be careful not to elevate people or personalities over vision.
3. Organization may want consider easing a leader out gradually, rather than allowing a fast exit of the founder.