The letting-go part
WHEN YOU OPEN THIS ISSUE and read the 2017 installment of our annual How I Did It feature, you’ll find that a couple of reactions are unavoidable. I contend you won’t be able to read these great entrepreneurs’ words without marveling at the amazing machine the free- enterprise system is—for creating wealth, for realizing dreams, for improving life. Also, you can’t help but notice a few recurring themes: the wobbly start; the scrappy ploy that turns the corner; and, maybe most interestingly, the founder’s odyssey from startup factotum to leader.
The leadership journey echoes in many of the stories this year, particularly the leg of the journey that a lot of entrepreneurs find the most difficult. It’s the letting-go part. You hear it in the words of Jack Ma ( page 44), who describes how he built one of the world’s biggest tech companies without knowing how to code or, by his own admission, being all that savvy about finance. He did it in part, he confesses, by hiring people smarter than he is. It’s there in Michael Dubin’s humbling realization that as Dollar Shave Club grew, some people working for him were better at marketing than he was, and it was his job to turn them loose ( page 22). The same idea permeates the story of 72andSunny’s John Boiler ( page 38), who says his transition from jaded cynic to leader began the moment he stopped trying to be the most creative guy in the room.
There’s a lot more in this month’s How I Did It package. You will hear from iconic successes, such as Ma, Dubin, Sheryl Sandberg, and Arianna Huffington, and from a few not-yet famous ones, like Jen Rubio and Steph Korey of luggage manufacturer Away. Each story is as unique as the speaker’s business; but to anyone who has launched from scratch, sweated out making payroll, or learned leadership painfully on the job, each story is also powerfully familiar.
Speaking of letting go, let me call your attention to another story in these pages. Written by Lindsay Blakely, David Whitford, and Leigh Buchanan, it chronicles three family businesses that have bucked the well-known tendency to not survive much beyond the founder’s generation ( page 94). In each case, the secret to survival proved to be the parents’ willingness to step back and let the kids adapt and evolve the business to new markets and chart a new path to growth. They say letting go like that is a sign of good parenting. In the realm of family enterprises, it’s also good business.