Stop Right Now and Fire Your CEO
There is nothing more nerve-racking than firing somebody. Yet, here I was doing it.
“Sorry, but you just don’t fit. You were great when you started in your role here, but now things have changed and sometimes that means hard choices have to be made.”
There may have been a little quiver in my hand as I started signing the pink slip.
“The harsh reality is that sometimes a company moves faster than you and, well, you get left behind. That’s what has happened here. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business. I’m sure you understand.”
That was the second time I fired myself in my own company. Me, the owner and CEO. That was several years ago. I had spent the previous year hyper-focused on marketing and sales, and I nearly doubled the revenue in my firm. The team grew, our customer base expanded and things changed. Except for me. I was still trying to run the company like it was a microbusiness.
I’ve always been a classic example from Michael Gerber’s “The E-Myth.” I started as an IT geek, morphing from an independent consultant to a lead consultant, and eventually, a “Does Everything CEO.” I was managing all of the marketing, sales, project management, billing— if it needed to be done, I did it. And, like the business owner in Gerber’s book, I made the mistake (and sometimes continue to make the mistake) of trying to be the Chief Problem Solver.
When this happens, there are four options available: You can watch your company crash and burn— either slowly or quickly, but always inevitably. You can sell the company and let it be somebody else’s problem. You can shrink the company to a more “manageable” level. Or you can realize that you need to adapt to the new company rather than the company adapting to you.
Thinking back to one of the many times I’ve fired myself, one of the most important was when I let myself go as CFO. For years I had managed our books, paid the bills, invoiced the customers and even cleaned up the P&L in preparation for taxes. I did it because we weren’t big enough to hire a full-time accountant. “When we get to 10 people, then I’ll start outsourcing all of this,” was my thinking. Keep in mind I ran a typical small firm and wasn’t 100% sure why we were making money.
At the time, I was an EO Accelerator participant and members of my peer group had started using an outsourced CFO. Coincidentally, I had also started asking myself: “How do I know if I’m actually making enough money to justify all of this?” After my first meeting with the CFO, I realized I had misunderstood the purpose of the role. The CFO shared how I should rearrange my accounting to better reflect true COGS and expenses, how to know not just when but how I was making and losing money, and how to focus on the gross-profit margin versus revenue to grow the company in a healthy way.
Within several months under the CFO’s tutelage, I had increased our margin by several points, more than enough to pay for his contract. Best of all, I could finally answer the question: “Am I making money or not?” It took me being replaced—being fired, really—as CFO for the margin to increase in my company. And now I no longer have to worry (or neglect) the company financials. I had somebody that sat with me every month so I could focus on other things, which proved priceless.
Right now, as CEO, I am still the CIO, as well as the vice president of sales, account management and IT MSP automation. I wonder if it’s time to pull out the pink slip again?
Dustin Puryear is an EO Louisiana member, as well as the founder and CEO of Puryear IT, an award-winning, cloud-centric IT provider that offers strategic development and management of advanced IT solutions, both in its own data center and using Microsoft Office 365. Contact Dustin at firstname.lastname@example.org.