About a year ago, Sarah Kauss, the founder of S'well, decided she really couldn't do it all. At least not well. S'well had grown to more than 100 employees and more than $100 million in sales, and its signature water bottles had been joined by product lines such as snack containers and cutlery. Meanwhile, sustainability--the passion that got S'well started in the first place--was becoming an ever-greater concern to customers.
"By holding onto the CEO role, and being focused on the operations of the day-to-day, I was not able to take advantage of other opportunities for the company," Kauss says. She was even running payroll herself. "I had lots of moments thinking, 'There is so much more I can do.'"
Kauss knew she needed help, and figured a new CEO could run the company day-to-day and help it grow. She would become the executive chairwoman and focus externally, working on brand vision, global innovation, and partnerships.
Kauss didn't see anyone internally with the depth of experience to become CEO. She'd successfully used a search firm to find her CMO, so she thought that was a promising route. She says she met a lot of interesting candidates over the next year, but that none of them had been a CEO before. "For me not to want to micromanage, I needed someone who had done this multiple times," she says.
Frustrated, she put out the call to her social network. It worked. Some bankers she had met at a conference a few years ago referred her to Hugh Rovit, who was most recently the CEO of home decor company Ellery Homestyles and has a history working with founder-led companies. He'd already let his confidants know that he was looking for something new. "It's like when you have friends in the background trying to set you up," Rovit says.
In retrospect, Kauss says her time meeting all those not-quite-right candidates prepared her to say yes to Rovit when they finally were introduced. But she says she should have had more faith in her instinct to go to her network, rather than trying a search firm as other companies typically do.
Once she knew Rovit should be her CEO, Kauss was determined to set him up for success. Since she would still have an active role in the company, she was concerned that she might accidentally undermine him. The other founders she spoke with were unanimous: The first time an employee comes to her and either doesn't like a decision Rovit has made or "forgets" that Kauss is no longer the CEO, she should give them an answer along the lines of, "I really appreciate your asking about this topic, and I want to give you my advice. But this is something you should talk to Hugh about."
Since Rovit took the helm earlier this month, Kauss says she can stop living "in a constant state of worry," knowing the company is in good hands. What else is she looking forward to? "Maybe I'll take a vacation that doesn't involve a conference badge," she says. "I don't know the last time that happened."