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.

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