I wasn't born a CEO. Frankly, my parents would have been a little surprised if I'd worn a tie and taken conference calls as an infant. The point is that none of us start out at the top. Getting there takes time, education, and experience.
After college, I was a cost accountant, an accounting manager, a sales finance manager, a financial analyst, a budget analyst, a finance manager, a general manager, a chief financial officer, and a board member. I lived and worked around the globe in places like Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Singapore, Switzerland, China, Panama, Dubai, and South Africa. In the U.S., I found a home base in Cincinnati.
While I was advancing in my career and living in various places in the world, I never thought about these experiences as preparing me for the challenge of being CEO of a global startup. Even when I decided to start my own company, I didn't consider my business background to have given me much of a head start. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can certainly see that it did, but I am both gland and fortunate not to have recognized that early on.
Learning as you go
The job description for CEO of a global startup includes knowledge and skills that are varied and wide-ranging. As a company leader, you need to have some knowledge in most areas of the company, like:
- General management
- Laws and regulations
- Human resources
- Supply chain
- Finance and accounting
- Information technology
- Real estate
And that's just the start. How on earth does an aspiring businessperson prepare for that?
For some, the idea of "fake it till you make it" might come to mind. Act like you know what you're doing until you actually do. I don't recommend that. Not only will people see through it in a hurry, but it can really drag out the learning process.
I've always admired what Socrates said almost 2,500 years ago: "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and it is that I know nothing." I'm a lousy actor, so the idea of "faking it" would never even really occur to me. Acknowledging to myself and others that I had a lot to learn was easy because it was true. It has also been a key to my success.
Here's how: Eight years ago, I was speaking with one of our very first clients about a project. I assured him that my company could deliver what he needed. And then, I told him that I was brand new to being a CEO and would greatly appreciate his feedback and support while I grew into the job.
Contrary to what some might think, this didn't raise concerns in his mind over my lack of experience. Instead, my honesty established a bond of trust between us that proved to be of tremendous benefit, not only for the business relationship but also for me personally. His advice and guidance to me as we worked together were among the best learning experiences I've ever had. And the same approach worked wonders with our other clients, as well. I did the hard work and long hours, and our clientele gave me feedback and suggestions. That's how I grew up and developed as a leader. Put in the time and work and you can too.