Be a Part-time Boss

Want to take a break from full-time work, but still have valuable skills to share? Then consider becoming a part-time CEO.

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As more startups pop up, many entrepreneurs are finding that being a visionary and being a CEO are two different things. While founders can help set ideas in motion, when it comes to running a company, they don’t have the expertise.

Over the last few years, there’s been increasing demand for part-time CEOs: people with strong management experience – either they were a former CEO or in the C suite – and who can help company founders or boards of directors take a business to the next level.

Many of these people are retired but want to continue working in some capacity, and are happy to take on six-month to year-long contracts. It’s a win-win for the CEO and the business.

There’s been increasing demand for part-time CEOs: people with strong management experience – either they were a former CEO or in the C suite – and who can help company founders or boards of directors take a business to the next level.

“Companies get talent that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to or be able to afford,” says Andrew Bailey, CEO of North America at The&Partnership, a New York-based communications agency. “In addition to strategy, they bring connections to funding, industry contacts and, importantly, new business.”

Those who want to try their hand at being a part-time CEO can usually find jobs through headhunters, who are looking for people with specific kinds of expertise, says Bailey. Once you get hired, though, you have to make it work, which can be difficult to do if you’re in and out within a short period of time.

Last year, Steve Southern, president and founder of Kitchener, Ontario-based Potenze, a small-business advisory firm, was approached by an owner of a small business to do some CEO-like consulting. Originally, the company’s owner wanted Southern to come for a few months and then relinquish the job to someone else, but it’s been such a good experience that he’s still there.

One of the reasons why it’s worked is that he and the business owner communicate constantly. “The relationship must be and must remain trusting and open,” he explains. “If this falls off the rails, the company suffers. Obviously, visions, priorities, value systems and many other aspects must also be aligned, and then realigned as necessary.”

Before joining a firm, make sure your role is well-defined to prevent any overlap between you and the still-involved owner. “The owner must be willing and able to hand over the reins,” Southern says. “Otherwise, frustration and power struggles will ensue.”

One of the struggles that can occur with this type of situation is that many part-time CEOs are often doing this for better work-life balance. They want to run a company, but don’t want the long-term pressures that come with being the boss.

Founders sometimes forget that the part-time CEO isn’t always available 24 hours a day, seven days a week like a traditional top executive may be. “That creates problems, especially for service-oriented businesses,” Bailey says. “I’ve met founders who have hired part-time CEOs who crave more of their time than they agreed to up front. Sometimes it ends up resolving itself. Sometimes they use the part-time CEO as a springboard to grow the business enough to be able to afford a full-time CEO.”

If you’re not yet ready to become a part-time CEO, don’t worry – this trend is here to stay. “Companies go through a continual evolution, from creation to sale,” says Southern. “For many companies, there will be a time when a particular skill set is required in the corner office. That time may be brief. Or, that time may arrive during a period in which the company cannot afford, and does not require, a full-time CEO.”

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