Too Many Chiefs

I became a C-Level Executive aged 17.

I agreed to take up a position as “Chief of Beverages” in a local restaurant. Having been introduced by a headhunter (Mum), negotiations began in earnest; a remuneration package of £5 per hour was agreed, plus tips, and I assumed this lofty office. There was, of course, a significant benefits package – a free bottle of beer every night, and a 5% restaurant discount.

My role? Pulling pints, serving botched Irish Coffees and corked wine.

My severance package? My wages for the night and an agreement to waive culpability for the keg of beer that had rolled onto the dual carriageway under my supervision.

This early foray into the world of Management serves as an interesting parallel with startups. A team of 4 will often consist of a CEO, CTO, COO, CFO as well as an array of product managers and account Managers.

More Chiefs than a Cherokee convention; but where are the Indians?

In my opinion, the singularly most important hire that a growing Startup can make is a talented office manager. A good one is the heartbeat of the team and has a galvanising effect. They will get stuff done – invoicing, refilling the printer, in-bound sales, travel arrangements.

“Good” startups are dynamic environments. They are fluid, reactive and agile.  They are perpetually under resourced. Leave your egos at the door, and get stuck in.

Paul Pogba

You have built your team. You have recruited domain experts who you believe can grow the business.

Let them do that. Let them build product, deal with customers, travel to trade shows.

Manchester United have not signed Paul Pogba to have him sweeping floors and ironing match jerseys.

No, they have a backroom team that allow him to focus on what he is good at it – playing football.

Power Struggle

You have 5 Chiefs. A bit like the feudal system, except they command zero loyal subjects. They are good, but they were a reflection of your budget at the time. Business has grown – you now wish to attract cutting edge talent – they too must become Chiefs.

What happens? An awkward conversation with your previous CTO – you can be as creative as you like, call him Executive Coding Warlock if you insist, but the reality remains – he has been shunted aside. This creates problems.

Taking myself as an example; having been Chief Beverage Officer, how could I possibly have been expected to become a humble barman? Preposterous. Far below my station.  

Reality Check

Around the time of my tenure as CBO of a local restaurant, a friend of mine was deeply engaged in his role as Media Distribution Officer. He had a paper round.

An organisational structure is, of course, important – but so too is living the in the real world.

What is the obsession with “Chief”? Where is the merit in being a chief, in a team of two? Time to dispense with pretentious grandeur.

Phil Patterson.