One question I get the most, especially from aspiring business people and entrepreneurs is this: “Why did you stand down as the CEO of the company you founded?”
Seeing as I’m trying to hold myself accountable to writing more, I thought it would be worth me writing a quick blog post to summarise why I made this decision, and hopefully this can help others who will inevitably face a similar conundrum in growing their business.
When you’re the founder and majority shareholder of a business, you end up becoming a weird amalgamation of a number of different roles. To liken it to football (or soccer, to anyone from North America reading this), you end up becoming a bit of a player manager. Someone who acts and works in the business, but someone who’s also a part of deciding who works (or plays), where. You then end up having to balance your time between day to day activities for the role you’re working in, but you also have the inevitable founder and director responsibilities – like understanding financials, business structures, managing risk, long term plans, attending board meetings and so on. This is a lot to manage for anyone, let alone a young entrepreneur who has little to no prior business experience.
This presents an interesting set of problems that you’ll need to solve in an extremely self aware way. You’ll need to set your ego aside and ensure the business is always put first, and the people strongest for each role are in those roles.
For me, this journey started in 2015. I met Steve Hewitt (Gymshark’s CEO) when I was introduced to him through Paul Richardson. Paul was a local business person that I met at the gym. He was known locally as being the “business guy” and had a wealth of experience that has helped build Gymshark’s strong foundations over the years. At the time Steve was working as an agent working between European suppliers and businesses. We wanted to produce more of our product in Europe as it’s great quality and much quicker for us to transport to the UK. It also attracted little to no import duty, so despite the product itself being more expensive, costs ended up not being greatly different from purchasing from the Far East. Steve managed the relationship between us and the agency. He was lightyears ahead of us in terms of understanding how to build relationships and manage partnerships. He later left the agency and we agreed that he would work on a consultancy basis in the business on a one day a week basis. His focus would be building Gymshark’s foundations to ensure we were built in a way that would allow us to continue to grow quickly as the business scaled.
Steve was great at this, previously he’d worked in Reebok, heading up their European sales. This gave him a deep understanding of the importance of stock in a stock based business. It also helped him to become a master relationship builder, and Reebok being a sportswear brand, he also understood the complexities of building purposeful fitness wear. As Steve worked in the Gymshark business more and more, we realised that he was bringing something totally new to the business. A level of discipline and rigour in an area of the business that to me at the time, was an after thought. I was interested in product, design, brand, community and athletes. I had little interest for logistics, financials and company structure.
Steve’s one day a week soon become two days a week, then three, and then finally – he joined full time as the Managing Director of Gymshark. During his days as MD, it was clear that he was significantly better at the business fundamentals than I was. As the business grew, the team grew, thus people management skills became vital. As well as this, thorough understanding of stock, operations, and financials were imperative – all areas that I just didn’t understand well enough.
During this time, the business was split pretty much down the middle. I’d manage front end (brand, sponsorship, product design, marketing etc) and Steve managed the back end (logistics, operations, stock, financials). This was great for a time, but as the business grew, it became clear that we needed a CEO who would manage the entire business. Steve was clearly the person for this. He became the CEO in 2017 and we started the creation of the Gymshark board. I became CBO (Chief Brand Officer) and was to sit alongside other Chiefs (such as a Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Product Officer) reporting into Steve.
This was brilliant for me and extremely freeing. It allowed me to focus on the things I excel at, allowed Steve to focus on what he excels at – putting the business first, and allowing the business to grow even more quickly. It also allowed me to spend my spare time working on my weaknesses – I picked up reading, started to take real time to understand the things Steve was great at. It also (and most importantly) allowed me to watch how Steve works, and learn from him. I’m a firm believer that you can learn extremely well by watching what others do who are better than you, ask them questions about why they do certain things, and truly understand what they do.
Fast forward to today – it was definitely the right decision. Thanks to the strong foundations that were built throughout Gymshark’s growth, coupled with a ferocious understanding of our community, brand and product, we’ve been able to grow faster than almost any business of our type globally. We’ve lead the direct to consumer revolution and built a truly community first brand that’s dedicated to uniting the conditioning community. We’ve also build a vibrant, addictive internal culture lead by Steve as CEO. I’ve been able to learn and grow at a turbo charged rate that will stand me in good stead over the next ten years, learning at a rate otherwise impossible.
I’m proud of my decision, and proud of the team that I’m a part of. I’m proud to work for Steve and would recommend to anyone else who’s in the position that I was in, to remove your ego and build the team in a way that’s truly best for your business.
So, why did I step down as CEO? I did it for a few reasons:
- Steve was the best person for the job
- It allowed us to grow the business even more quickly, focussing on our strengths
- It allowed me to allocate time to working on my weaknesses, becoming a more rounded business person