Signs That A Board Should Consider Replacing The CEO
Several months ago, I posted about Pascal Levensohn’s great white paper titled “After the Term Sheet: How Venture Boards Influence the Success or Failure of Technology Companies.” This is a must read for any entrepreneur who is raising or has raised venture capital, as well as every VC.
Pascal is now working on a new white paper titled “Ten Signs That It’s Time to Make a CEO Change In A Venture Backed Company.” He reached out to a number of VCs, including my partner Heidi Roizen, and asked the question, “What are the five most important signal indicators to you that it’s time to replace the CEO of one of your portfolio companies?”
Heidi did a great job of responding and covered most of the areas that I would have. So – rather than coming up with my own list, I thought I’d republish Heidi’s answers (with my editorial changes). Following are the answers from a VC perspective.
- I never hear from the CEO (other than at board meetings) except after I initiate the contact (or worse, when he does not respond even when I send an email or leave voicemail (i.e. avoids responding to me.))
- All communications from the CEO are “sales pitches”. If the news is all good, I know something is wrong. If all communications are “presentations” (instead of interactions), something is wrong. The corollary to this is when any bad news comes to me from a back channel (i.e. a customer, another board member, or (most often) another employee of the company.)
- There is odd body language / eye contact in management (board or otherwise) meetings among the direct reports. This is hard to articulate, but I can just see/hear/feel it when the management team disagrees but does not feel that they can have a dialogue about the issues.
- The “opportunities” always turn into “learning experiences” – that is, when I am constantly told about great deals about to happen, and then it always ends up that the deal doesn’t come in as planned. This is okay if it happens occasionally, but not if it is common practice. This dynamic would be fine if the plan were being met, but it never is in this scenario.
- There is a revolving door at the VP level. I get very suspicious when lots of people leave for “lifestyle” issues, particularly when they are hyped as heroes when they are hired, yet I am told when they are leaving that “it is actually good this person is leaving as she wasn’t very good.” A corollary to this is when the CEO constantly blames (or complains) about one of his direct reports but then hangs onto that person because confrontations are unpleasant and/or they don’t want to deal with the pain of going through the replacement process.
Following are three more that are not really signs that you should replace the CEO, but rather are signs that you should have ALREADY replaced the CEO (and that you are now likely in deep shit.)
- Not facing fiscal reality. For example, the company is 3 months away from running out of cash, there is no clear financing in site, and the CEO is still refusing to take “survival measures” to cut staff or do whatever it takes to keep the company afloat. As my partner there are often very good reasons why the plan is not met. Early in the life of a company, there is huge uncertainty around the revenue line (although the expense line should easily be managed to.) If the CEO is unable to determine and articulate the reasons why the plan is missed and make appropriate course corrections, that is an issue. In addition, as a company matures, if the financial miss becomes endemic, the CEO needs to go. At the end of the day, if you can’t manage your business to revenue and cost targets, you will be out of business.
Pascal also asked a second question, which I’ll address in a later post. I’m looking forward to Pascal’s new paper – if it’s half as good as the last one, it’ll once again be a necessary read for entrepreneurs, VCs, and board members.
I’m hell on laptops. I fondly remember my first Compaq luggable (aka “the sewing machine”) – it’s still up in my parent’s attic somewhere. Every year or so I get a new one, and my IBM T40 had served me well.
I’ve been jonesing for a tablet PC for a while. I tried the first Compaq when it was released (it sucked – returned) and recently tried the new HP Compaq Tablet PC tc4200 (ok, but lousy screen and marginal keyboard – returned).
So – it was with relatively low expectations that I awaited my IBM X41. It was released in June and it didn’t show up until mid-August. But – it was worth every minute of the wait. This is the first tablet I’ve used that is completely interchangeable with a laptop (e.g. you want a laptop – fine, you want a tablet – fine.) While this is a Lenovo computer (instead of IBM), I can’t tell the difference between it and my IBM T40 (which was an IBM computer) – the IBM to Lenovo handoff appears seamless so far.
Without question, this was the best toy of the month. I’m only five days into September, but I came home to a few fun toys, so next month may have some competition.
I’ve used del.icio.us some over the past few months as I’ve played around with user tagging. However, I’ve been struggling with tagging – I use Firefox and am an “in context” browser (e.g. I don’t want to end up on another web page when I do an action like “tag” something.) So – my use of del.icio.us was a lot lighter than I thought it would be since it “broke” the way I browse.
The VeryDelicious Firefox plug in solved this for me when I stumbled upon it today. It’s perfect – I now have a toolbar in Firefox that lets me add up to three tags for a web page without leaving the page, knows my existing tag list (so I can choose from them), and let’s me go directly to my del.icio.us page for a specific tag. Worth checking out if you are a del.icio.us and Firefox user.
A fellow who goes by the handle “The Interdictor” has been blogging since August 27th from a high rise office building on Poydras Ave near St. Charles. The blog is an incredible hour by hour story of Katrina and her impact as she unfolded, along with some brave folks efforts to keep Intercosmos / directNIC (a hosting company) up and running. The running commentary of the experience is awe-inspiring and gives you a very different view into the situation.
I’ve help fund and start several hosting companies and many of my companies depend on hosting companies for their business. While the notion of spending the night in a data center is not a new one (yeah – I’ve done it – nice and cool, great white noise, but the floor isn’t that comfy), doing it in the context of the aftermath of a major hurricane is something that is hard to grasp.
Hills, Rocks, Sun, Sweat, and MotionBased GPS Mapping
I had an awesome hour run on Fowler Trail (and then on the fire road that goes to Golden – I don’t know the name of it) today. I love data, so I’ve been searching for a great watch / pedometer / HRM / web service solution for a year and I think I may have finally found it.
I’ve been running with a Fitsense watch for the past year which I liked, but didn’t love. I bought a Garmin Forerunner 201 and played with it some, but the Garmin software stunk (and wasn’t web based, so it ended up being stuck on one computer.) I was contacted by the folks from MotionBased a week ago and they set me up with an account. I dusted off my Forerunner 201 and – after three runs – am completely loving the combination of MotionBased and the 201. Since I do my training based on heart rate + time (vs. distance), I ordered a Forerunner 301 so that I’ll have a HRM.
Following is the run I did today.
It’s live data – you can click through on the View Activity link and you’ll get more data options (and get a feel for the kind of stuff that MotionBased keeps track of). The maps are awesome – you can play to your hearts content simulating your workout. I always thought the first part of Fowler was pretty steep, but it only gains 200 feet to the top. However, it’s a hilly run (and very rocky in the middle) so I gained (and lost) 1300 ft. over the 5.3 mile out and back run. An excellent way to massage the brain.
I stumbled up New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s interview with CNN yesterday. If you listen to one thing today, spend 12 minutes on this (or – read the transcript if you don’t have access to audio, although the interview is more powerful.)
I’ve been struggling with what – if anything – to post about my thoughts on Katrina. At the end of the day yesterday, I sat in front of a TV for the first time for two hours and watched CNN (I hate TV – I try to avoid it – but I was trapped at the car dealership waiting for them to fix my car, everyone had gone home for the long weekend so work had shut down, and all their magazines were from June) and muttered, mumbled, and swore non-stop. I woke up this morning to yet another beautiful Boulder day, obsessively read all the Katrina news online that I could find, and muttered and mumbled some more. As I caught up on email and blogs, I kept rolling over thoughts in the back of my mind on a blog post.
Fred Wilson did it for me. He captured exactly what I’ve been muttering, mumbling, and swearing about. I’m extraordinarily saddened for everyone caught up in this tragedy, once again thankful that it only impacts me indirectly, and very pensive about how it impacts us as Americans. Thanks Fred for putting your thoughts out there. I noticed that Nick Bradbury also had a post that captures some of my feelings. I am humbled by Anita Taylor. And – as always – my wife Amy is more articulate than I am.
I obviously encourage everyone to help out any way they can. Amy and I donated to the American Red Cross Hurricane 2005 Relief Fund this morning (if you get my feed, you can do this by clicking on the banner ad that FeedBurner is inserting), I’ve added a Humane Society link under “Promoting Now” on my main blog page, and we’re paying attention to other things we can do to be helpful. NewsGator also committed to give 3% of revenue for the month of September to the American Red Cross and I encourage other companies to do the same.
If you are a runner, the October 2005 Runner’s World had a good intro article on “blogging for runners.” Unfortunately, the Runner’s World website sucks and doesn’t seem to include the full magazine, so if you want to read the article, you’ll have to buy the print edition (or be a more patient searcher than I am). The best part of the article was that it highlighted several active runners’ blogs, including Alison Wade, David Bray, and Joan Nesbit Mabe (an elite master’s runner who blogs). Their feeds are now in NewsGator Online in my “Running” folder and will serve as additional daily motivation to get my ass out there.
I’ve often wondered why the makers of online training software (my newest toy is Motion Based – more after I’ve used it for a few weeks) don’t include a “blog / public diary” capability. Oh well – enough “thinking” about running – time to go do it.
Ah – we’re back in the land of 24 screen movie theaters so our Friday night movie is no longer limited to two choices. However, almost all the movies out right now are crap (you know you are in trouble when the #1 movie last weekend was The 40–Year-Old Virgin) so we decided to give Transporter 2 a try.
We loved the original Transporter – it was definitely a sleeper and Jason Statham was – well – the British Vin Diesel. Frank (Jason) and his rules are back, the evil bad girl is super hot (although a horrifyingly bad shot), and the eastern European villain-scientists are bad news, but doofuses. The action / adventure / car chases / shoot–em-ups are great and – with the exception of a few scenes – I managed to suspend my disbelief for the better part of 90 minutes.
It’s not as good as the first one, but it took my mind off cancer, New Orleans, and other bad things for a couple of hours.