Behind every successful CEO probably lurks at least one major regret. The best, or the luckiest, CEOs learn from their mistakes and get an opportunity to rectify them. But as we learned from the stories that company founders shared with us, even the ones who get a second chance can still feel the repercussions from their moves for years afterward. And the lessons they gleaned stay with them and influence their business decisions in sometimes surprising ways.
Regret 5: Hiring the wrong executive
Company: Alogent Corp. (#281 on the 2000 Inc. 500), in Norcross, Ga. Business: Designing and installing payment processing software CEO: Brian Geisel
"It was a desperation move," says Brian Geisel, referring to his decision to hire a key manager. The fact that the man he chose was a bad fit was one thing, but what Geisel regrets most is that he'd allowed himself to get backed into a corner in the first place. "My biggest mistake was to let myself get into a situation where you need to solve issues immediately, in desperation," says Geisel, who founded his software company in 1995. "I didn't have the resources to let me do due diligence. I didn't have a board. I didn't have a human resources department. I didn't have the depth of management to use the managers as a sounding board."
As a result, Geisel hired someone without thoroughly checking his background and references. "And boy, did I pay for it," he admits. "There's a tremendous investment of time and effort to bring somebody to a level where they can add value." It took a year before Geisel finally realized that this new hire was not the right man for the job. He was "unable to handle the complexities of dealing with large projects and large clients," the CEO says.
At the time Geisel, whose background was in information technology, didn't have any real experience as a manager. He was looking for a senior executive who would have the sales and organizational management experience to complement his own skills. "I was looking for balance," he says. "I got that, but there was no overlap." In terms of skills, style, and strategic goals, Geisel says, the manager he hired "was too far on the other side." The executive left the company by mutual agreement.
Now, with 52 employees and a stronger management team, Geisel uses an outside agency to screen potential senior hires. And he has learned to rely on advisers for input on candidates as well. In retrospect, he can easily see how his management style led to problems with his first big hire. "I've always kind of carried things on my own back," he says. His company remains 100% employee owned, without any outside investors.