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
May 11, 2020 at 6:39 am
Nicely written and composed article Ben. If this is your first time with no outside support, then I’d say you were pretty good at English language back at school. If only more business owners had both the self-awareness combined with the up front funds to bring in the expertise you’d identified. Although your strategy to bring in Steve as you could afford, shows the benefits of not having to plunge in full time with a role.
It has been great to watch the business growth from the outside and you’ve certainly mastered the art of brand building.
I’m looking to emulate your transformational success in my category and often look to Gymshark principles of community building.
I’m looking forward to seeing the next leap for Gymshark. Good luck.
May 11, 2020 at 6:42 am
Hey Ben, great article and really eye opening! One little remark, your website it’s not responsive on phone. The youtube’s position it’s not responsive
May 11, 2020 at 1:19 pm
I think this is the sign of a great leader that is able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses to do the best for their team.
It is not the job title that denotes leadership, a great brand and clearly great leadership at the top from all roles
May 11, 2020 at 2:07 pm
Incredibly inspiring read. Thank you
May 11, 2020 at 4:48 pm
A refreshing, humble and frank take. I think there’s often different skills you need to take businesses through different stages of their maturity.
I agree it was a brave choice to step back, but it’s also great to have the reflection to recognise the need for this.
A great read.
May 11, 2020 at 6:38 pm
Brilliance of recognition you have so much to grow with. Finding competent people to maintain a revenue stream means you built the right foundation. I fit thAt mold admirably for folks. The problem solver who gets the job done should ascend in a firm. Bravo
May 11, 2020 at 7:20 pm
Respect! It takes a lot of courage to make that decision but I’m 100% convinced it was the right one. While you did an amazing job creating Gymshark and growing the business, someone with more relevant experience can scale the brand even faster. I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to work alongside Steve & Co to continue learning and developing your skills. Keep up the writing!!
May 11, 2020 at 7:25 pm
Really cool little blog, looking forward to more, I remember watching that stepping down video years back, but didn’t realise you reported to him now. Must be interesting not being CEO but being the majority share holder too. Insightful read!
May 11, 2020 at 7:28 pm
Ben, I am truly inspired by your experience. Truly humble what you did and to be able to still prosper under the direction of someone else from the company you created is very commendable and excellent example to put the people and business before you. I’ve been passionately thinking about starting similar to you in a sort of fashion, and this advice I will take to heart. Thank you for the article, can’t wait what more you provide for the Gymshark community.
May 11, 2020 at 7:30 pm
Great article mate. Really interesting to see how you scaled on the backend from the middle business phase into the big time. I would be really interested in a similar article but on the early days of gymshark as a startup. Cheers.
May 11, 2020 at 7:33 pm
Incredibly insightful blog post, Ben. You are an outstanding example and inspiration to all young people and old on what sheer belief and absolute determination can do in order to achieve your goals and dreams. The core ethos and values that you have fostered at Gymshark is a sight to behold.
Love your content on YouTube and LinkedIn as well. I’m a masters student in Ireland, studying in Digital Marketing and take great learning and inspiration from you.
May 11, 2020 at 7:42 pm
I really admire what you have achieved in such a short space of time. I watch all of your YouTube videos and follow you on the social media’s that I use. This was really interesting to read, thank you. You have previously mentioned this in your videos on YouTube but I get that it’s another way of engaging your audience.
I personally am yet to think of a unique idea as I believe in this current economy/climate it needs to be the case to stand any chance along with determination and hard work which I believe I have. However, I would like to call myself an aspiring entrepreneur.
I wish you continued good luck but you aren’t going to need it as you are smashing any challenge you seem to set yourself!
Assistant Manager (of a Forklift Company)
May 11, 2020 at 7:43 pm
Amazing, great blog well worth the read!
May 11, 2020 at 8:02 pm
May 11, 2020 at 8:05 pm
May 11, 2020 at 8:07 pm
Your story is so awesome. I love that you’re in such an incredible position but still find time to write about your experiences. It’s very inspiring for someone like me who’s coming out of uni and to see your success In such a short period of time
May 11, 2020 at 8:16 pm
Wow. CEO is just a title and someone who has a big ego doesn’t know that. Congrats, you are one strong individual and all young people can learn from you, including me. 👏🏼
May 11, 2020 at 8:38 pm
I loved this! I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of your posts. I’ve been a customer since 2017, however, I’ve been just as much of a fan of the business and company aspect as much as I am a fan of the product. You found a company that grew extremely fast (which is something I find incredibly interesting to hear about) and you show your customers everything. That brings a customer so much closer and more personal to the brand they spend so much money on. I love that you put the customers/company before yourself, and that is extremely admirable. It’s why I’ve invested so much. I look like a gymshark super freak weirdo to other people, but this post alone can prove why I believe in this brand so much. Looking forward to more writings!
May 11, 2020 at 8:44 pm
It is amazing to see how the business has grown and how your took a decision that like you said had ego in it, and make it about business first. I love gymshark, and watching the business grow. I haven’t bought a gym shark product yet, but I am keeping my eye out and really enjoy your YouTube videos and how you have built this brand. Well done
May 11, 2020 at 8:45 pm
Thank you for sharing that insight Ben. It takes real courage to understand you might have to drop your own ego and do what’s best for the business. As the results have already shown being humble and self aware in your own abilities has allowed GymShark to inspire millions of people all across the globe
May 11, 2020 at 8:50 pm
I study Marketing & International Business and this semester, we had to analyse a brand strategy & create a campaign strategy for a company of our choice – I chose Gymshark! And while working on the assignment and doing research, this exact question came up! I think it is so important to put the business first instead of the ego and many businesses can learn from your decision. Your story is inspiring, thanks for sharing!
May 11, 2020 at 8:51 pm
Really good article Ben. Well written. Brave decision. Do what you do do well!
May 11, 2020 at 9:14 pm
From someone in a similar position as my brother and I grow continue to grow our eComm business, this article is brilliant and truly valuable as to which direction to sway once we start making those decisions. I won’t lie I have felt egotistical about becoming CEO before, and this article just helped abolish all of that.
My brother and I continually look up to and reference yourself and Gymshark, everything from your logistics to your UX, marketing and culture. So to have this intimate insight is truely thought provoking and refreshing. Thanks for sharing your point of view, keep it up!
May 11, 2020 at 9:20 pm
Very very interesting. Amazing your hard work and your humility. I have been a follower of yours for 3 years … and I wanted to thank you for making me such an ambitious person… you have transmitted a lot of confidence and motivation with your youtube videos, articles, interviews, etc… it calls my attention how young you are and what you have achieved, always with humility and hard work. I am just 18 years old and you have motivated me a lot and you have made me very ambitious, so thank you.
I have a question… Do you think that Do you think Steve would still be Gymshark’s CEO if you have had more business experience?
May 11, 2020 at 9:50 pm
A brilliant insight into your decision. It must have been incredibly difficult but was certainly the right choice. Your journey is an incredible inspiration to myself so please keep the content coming!
May 11, 2020 at 10:15 pm
Great insight Ben, and it is a powerful trait to be able to look at what your weaknesses are and be humble enough to realise you need to let go of control to allow the business to flourish. People more than twice your age and more experience would not be able to this. A wise head on very young shoulders.
May I also praise your fantastic customer service team. I bought some joggers and had an issue with the zip. Mailed the C/S team, issue resolved that day and replacement arrived following. Absolutely top class👏👏
May 12, 2020 at 8:53 am
I think you’ve made a great decision back then. Great Ego control. Love your story and constant struggle to be better.
May 12, 2020 at 9:38 am
Great blog post I really enjoyed reading it – so much insights! Learning from people that bring something you don’t have yet is so valuable and humbling.
I am just curious what was the best phase in your life?
Stay safe & healthy,
May 12, 2020 at 11:04 pm
Such a great post. Although I had seen the original video, this article is more insightful. I am glad you keep on sharing business advise for us entrepreneurs who are today where you once were. Wish we could all find our Steve’s some day (lol) but its a really hard thing to pull off. Will continue watching what you do and learning from you. All the best 🙂
May 22, 2020 at 12:22 am
Thanks for sharing Ben.
Really good insightful read and it seems like it was the right decision, as the outcome has been great.
Thinking aloud? As a start up.. what if you couldn’t afford someone like Steve how would one go about building the necessary relationships /managing commercial partnerships/ stock level riskes, and growing the business; or would you say it is necessary to have a Steve!
The No1 Face
May 24, 2020 at 8:53 am
Ben – well done. You’re story is an inspirational one. You’ve made difficult decisions with a level headed and selfless understanding of the potential and growth rate of your brand and business – all while under an increasingly intense spotlight. You haven’t let your own development become the handbrake that slows Gymshark’s explosive acceleration and this denotes a leadership trait beyond your years. Congratulations to Steve, who has proven to you that he can care for the well-being of your baby and, no doubt, works his socks off to represent it. I don’t stop to read many articles on LinkedIn but this one drew my interest and it was worth the time. All the best