GLOBAL CEO, ENTREPRENEUR, PROFESSOR, AND MENTOR

July 1, 2019

When Is It Time For A Company Founder To Step Aside?

Why should a successful founder of a company voluntarily move on? Leading a company that you founded and built into a thriving enterprise is a heady experience. You get lots of attention. You get to tell everyone what to do. You have the resources to try out your new ideas. And the perks are great. No wonder successful founders rarely step aside willingly—and that many stay on too long.

Henry Ford is a classic example. Though he resigned as president of his phenomenally successful company in 1918 at the age of 55 and turned over the presidency to his only son Edsel, he continued to be active in the management of the company and thwarted Edsel at every turn. David Halberstam, in The Reckoning, his monumental history of the auto industry, wrote: “There was no doubt in the minds of the ablest Ford men of that day, and of their competitors at GM, that if the old man had stepped aside, Edsel Ford would have improved the company tremendously. But he never got the chance. He was crushed, and a whole generation of good men were forced out.” Following his son’s unexpected death in 1943, Henry returned as president, hanging on for an additional two years until he was eventually forced out in a family coup led by his son’s widow.

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