CEO's Notebook

It's a watershed moment when the CEO can no longer run the company alone. Mary Alice Lawless, CEO of ClickUpdate Inc., a Morristown, N.J., Web-based marketing-communications company, handled it in her own way.

Early last year, after Y2K jitters had subsided, contracts began pouring into ClickUpdate. The company's stack of payroll checks thickened from 15 to 35. Lawless, a mother of five, could tell that the company was growing beyond her control, but she didn't want to thrust strangers between herself and her loyal middle managers. So she decided to hire contract executives who would act as mentors for her employees. After they left, she could create a management team by promoting insiders.

Contract managers -- executives who work on a single project or for a limited period of time -- are an appealing option for small companies. Executive-search firms are the obvious place to find them. But since search firms typically take 35% to 40% of an executive's annual salary for a commission, the rates can shoot as high as $2,500 a day.

Lawless did her own legwork, phoning fellow entrepreneurs for recommendations. She interviewed about 15 people and filled three positions: chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and senior VP of sales and marketing, at $750 to $1,200 a day each. She wrote the contracts herself. The entire process took four months. "It's the greatest thing I ever did," she says. "I am much more informed and more confident about where I'm taking the company."

Is Lawless's headhunterless tactic right for you? "It's an unconventional approach," says Joseph Daniel McCool, editor of Executive Recruiter News and Recruiting Trends, both published by Kennedy Information, in Fitzwilliam, N.H. "If time is of the essence, it makes more sense to go with a firm."

The Quotable Entrepreneur

"My partner's wife is one of the most understanding women I've ever met. I'm single, and this company has definitely contributed to the ending of some of my relationships."
--Adam Scott, cofounder of Wing Zone, a $3.5-million buffalo-wing-delivery chain based in Atlanta


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