With a growth strategy in place and markets expanding as new products and services appear, the company now needs to begin to consider its long-term future. What is it trying to achieve? Where does it want to be in five, 10 or 20 years' time? How will it differentiate itself from its competitors?
Long-term goals are sometimes expressed in simplistic terms such as wanting to be the largest company in the market (“total world domination” is how the marketing director of one toy maker once expressed his long-term goals). But something else is needed if the company is to continue to expand. In order to develop and articulate the company's long-term goals, the company requires a leader.
It is sometimes said that good leaders develop their own thinking about the company's aims and then motivate employees to advance those aims. Great leaders, on the other hand, draw out the latent vision within the business and then set about guiding the company towards it. Such leaders, in other words, inspire people to create their own image of the company's future and then help them make it real.
Here, long-term aims come not so much from the imaginations of individuals as from the company's culture - that shared set of values, beliefs, customs and ideas that has been slowing building since the day the company was founded. Great leaders such as Konosuke Matsushita, the late Japanese industrialist, or N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman of the Indian company Infosys, use cultural values as the foundation for a collective, shared vision, rather than imposing their own on the existing culture.
A company needs not only a great leader but also the right leader. Some leaders achieve great reputations with one business, only to fail when they move on to another. The search for the right leader will often be a long and painstaking - and expensive - process. But if the process is successful, the reward is a leader who will help the company rise through the next stage of its life, building the customer base, expanding into new markets, increasing profits and returns for shareholders, until ultimately it reaches global scale. The problem all too often is that the business already has a leader: the founder-entrepreneur who first conceived it and guided it through infancy. Is he or she the best person to guide the company in the next stage of its growth?
Some are capable of doing so, others are not. Robert Noyce, the technological genius who founded Fairchild Semiconductor and then Intel, was a classic entrepreneurial type who enjoyed starting companies but lost interest in them once they reached a certain size. But Andrew Grove, who was with Noyce at the foundation of Intel, proved to be more than capable of handling the transition; taking over from Noyce, he has since guided Intel to a position of dominance. Noyce had the flair and ability to guide the start-up; Grove has had the vision to turn that start-up into a global company.
Many founder-entrepreneurs recognise their limitations and know when to step back. Others do not, and recent business history is full of cases of entrepreneurs dumped by their own boards, who believed they no longer had a useful role to play. More sadly, some of these people were managers of real talent, who later proved they were rather better managers than their successors. Once again, there are few hard rules; the primary factors must always be the needs of the company and the competencies of the individuals involved.
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