John Vechey, co-founder of Seattle-based games maker PopCap Games, just sold his company to Electronic Arts for just under a billion dollars, so you might think he doesn't have to fret about success any longer. But according to Vechey, it's not success that CEOs need to be concerned about, but how they will deal with that success once it comes their way. Vechey, always humble, shared with our Inc. 500|5000 conference audience the seven ramifications of success that he's struggled with over the years:
1 . "You won't be the smartest person in the room." When your company grows, it will ultimately outgrow you and you'll need to hire people who can take it to the next level. Vechey hired a CEO--Dave Roberts--several years ago but, he cautions, "if you do a great job hiring, you will also have to do a great job of listening" to the people who are smarter than you.
2. "It won't be your company anymore." As you become more successful, your company becomes bigger than you. That means you'll ultimately lose control. "An example is that Dave Roberts hired a vice president that I didn't necessarily see eye to eye with and I had troubles with that," says Vechey. The CEO of a smaller company might have shown the VP the door, but Vechey knew that wasn't in the company's best interests.
3. "Only you can control self indulgence." The more successful you become, "people won't necessarily call you out on your shit," says Vechey. "So I hired a professional coach because then your hiring someone to tell you you're an idiot." The lesson: the more successful you are, the more you need to step back and examine how you're behaving.
4. "You will have to fire your best friends." As your company grows, you will inevitably be faced with making "soul crushing" decisions about the friends you hired at the start-up stage and their ability to help you scale. It's painful, says Vechey, but "if you haven't done it, you need to look around and ask yourself if you're missing something."
5."Right decisions will make people unhappy." CEOs like being liked, but growth means making tough decisions that won't always be popular with employees. "Adapting is hard and people don't like change," says Vechey. "But if you try to make people happy in the short term, it probably will not work out for the company in the long term."
6. "You won't always have a place in your company." The best thing he ever did, says Vechey, is to say "my place is not as CEO." But since then, it's been a struggle to find his place at PopCap. "You need to find the perfect interaction between what the company needs, your skills, and your passions."
7. "People can't relate." Being a CEO can be lonely and it's often impossible for friends and colleagues to understand your experience. "Friends assume that because I have a games company, I can do whatever I want or that I spend all day playing games. Sometimes I do but don't tell my boss."
What do you think of Vechey's observations about the ramifications of success? How do you cope with your own success?
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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