MT agony uncle Jeremy Bullmore

How can I take a step back from my own business?

I set up my business a decade ago and it's been a success. I'm now CEO and COO, but I miss being in the thick of it. What do you suggest I do?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 19 Feb 2013

Q: I set up my business a decade ago. It has been a big success and I took the decision a year ago to step back and enjoy it. I recruited a CEO and COO to replace me, and I'm now the chairman. However, I'm finding this much more difficult than I imagined. I feel a great sense of loss at not being in the thick of it. This is most unexpected as I had previously felt I'd been missing out on my family hugely. It's too late to go back to the business but I can't face starting another one yet.

JEREMY SAYS: Anybody who has started a successful business from scratch is, by definition, naturally decisive and an instinctive leader. So I'm surprised you're surprised at feeling out of it; you're temperamentally ill-suited to anything other than personal autonomy.

Almost inevitably, your new CEO and COO are going to make decisions that you disapprove of, which is not to say that they're necessarily wrong. The most serious risk you run - for yourself, your business and your new management - is being half in and half out; claiming to have stepped aside while still intermittently interfering. However painful, you've got to let the new team get on with it. You probably shouldn't even be chairman.

You need a project of your very own. It doesn't have to be a new business. For example, find a local charity that's struggling and devote yourself to making it the best-run charity in the area. Or maybe the country.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Got a problem? Email Jeremy at editorial@managementtoday.com.

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