Robert Sher: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris


SherRob Sher is founding principal of CEO to CEO, a consulting firm of former chief executives that improves the leadership infrastructure of midsized companies seeking to accelerate their performance. He has published extensively on the successful leadership traits of CEOs of mid-market companies. His first book, published in 2007, is The Feel of the Deal: How I Built a Business Through Acquisitions. His latest book, Mighty Midsized Companies: How Leaders Overcome 7 Silent Growth Killers, was recently published by Bibliomotion in 2014. Rob is also a regular columnist for the online version of Forbes and CFO Magazine and recently published a seven part series on HBR online.

He and his partners act as consulting CEOs who help client companies’ CEOs and their top teams to navigate difficult passages. Running a company is a series of judgment calls, each of which can have major consequences. They often help make those judgment calls, drawing on deep experience as CEOs and by helping their clients think through situations. Some people call him a CEO coach. Others call him a CEO mentor. And some think of him as their own “Chairman of the Board.”

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Rob. To read all of it, please click here.

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Rob Sher is founding principal of CEO to CEO, a consulting firm of former chief executives that improves the leadership infrastructure of midsized companies seeking to accelerate their performance. He has published extensively on the successful leadership traits of CEOs of mid-market companies. His first book, published in 2007, is The Feel of the Deal: How I Built a Business Through Acquisitions. His latest book, Mighty Midsized Companies: How Leaders Overcome 7 Silent Growth Killers, was recently published by Bibliomotion in 2014. Rob is also a regular columnist for the online version of Forbes and CFO Magazine and recently published a seven part series on HBR online.

He and his partners act as consulting CEOs who help client companies’ CEOs and their top teams to navigate difficult passages. Running a company is a series of judgment calls, each of which can have major consequences. They often help make those judgment calls, drawing on deep experience as CEOs and by helping their clients think through situations. Some people call him a CEO coach. Others call him a CEO mentor. And some think of him as their own “Chairman of the Board.”

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Rob. To read all of Part 2, please click here.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Mighty Midsized Companies?

Sher: The book project began in August 2010 with the development of the idea, a working hypothesis and detailed outline. The research began in mid 2011 and continued for about two years. The writing itself began in mid-2013 and concluded just as 2014 began. This book was written because over the years I’ve seen many CEOs from all industries fall into the same traps over and over again. The act of writing is one of the ways I learn and synthesize my experiences, and the creation of this book pushed me to put the thinking into a powerful format that will save many, many midsized CEOs a lot of grief.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Sher: Yes. As I strove to distill a central concept that tied all seven growth killers together, the concept of leadership infrastructure popped into my head, and it became the core of the conclusion of the book. Leadership infrastructure is the sum of all systems, people, and processes that allow leadership of a midsized firm to comfortably and consistently grow the firm over time.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Sher: Well, I started with 12 chapters (each devoted to a growth killer) and as the research unfolded, some weren’t validated. Others weren’t specifically targeting midsized business (they targeted all sized of businesses). But essentially the book is focused on the same audience, dealing with the same kinds of challenges as originally envisioned. The research and writing processed focused the thinking. Of course the title developed later, as did the seven problems, the final silent growth killers.

Morris: Many of your readers will be surprised to learn that, in the United States, there are about 200,000 midsized companies; that is, those with annual sales within a range from $10-million to one billion dollars. They account for about a third of the U.S. GDP and a third of all U.S. jobs.

What are the defining characteristics of a midsized company that is “mighty”? Of the 200,000 that are now operational in the U.S., about how many meet those standards?

Sher: A midsized company that can be called mighty must be growing, strong and resilient as well as ea pleasure to own or lead must deliver predictable results that serve its owners. There is very little research on midsized companies, so there is no data as to how many could be considered mighty. My estimate estimated based on personal experience is that it’s less than 20%.

Morris: To what extent are the CEOs of your firm’s client companies facing challenges today that are [begin italics] significantly different [end italics] than the challenges they faced only 3-5 years ago? Please explain.

Sher: I’m sure there are some differences, but largely the challenges are the same, including competition, delivering great customer service, and great products, innovation, managing waste, and finding markets hungry for products. The reason so many business struggle isn’t that the challenges change, it is that the people running businesses are human and make mistakes, some learn from those mistakes but many do not, and there are new business leaders emerging every year.

Morris: In your opinion, how can social media be of greatest assistance and value to midsized companies?

Sher: Involvement with social media is about building communities of people who have common interests and want to connect with peers. The first question, for any business, is how interested is your constituency in talking about your mission/products/services? Social media is not a new way to output marketing messages, but a way to engage in discussions. If you have a real community that is large enough to build momentum, it might be helpful. If not, spend your time and money elsewhere. However, like any new global behavior, it is advisable that business leaders engage in it to some extent so they are ready to dive in when an opportunity arises. Remaining ignorant about social media would be a blind spot.

Morris: No doubt many of those who read your book are thinking about launching their own company. In your opinion, what are the most important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when preparing to do so?

Sher: My book is not for startups. While I’m happy they buy my book, they should skim it to raise awareness of the 7 silent killers when/if their startup grows, but then they should shelve it. They should not try to run their startup like a midsized business. They should read the plethora of books targeted toward startups (or small business) and follow that advice. Re-read my book around five million in revenues or a headcount of about 30.

Morris: Opinions are divided – sometimes sharply divided – about the importance of charisma to effective leadership. What do you think?

Sher: If you’ve got charisma, it’s a gift, and you should use it. But leaders who are most successful know they must not only attract and excite followers, but deliver the goods as well. Charisma alone starts to look like fraud after a while: all promises and no results. Leaders without charisma can succeed as well. They still need to attract people and inspire them, but there are many other ways to do that (a powerful mission, empathy, and on and on).

Morris: I’ve served as a CEO of two companies and then provided consulting services of various kinds to hundreds of CEOs. I cannot recall a prior time when the challenges facing a CEO were greater than they are today. What do you think?

Sher: I think you’re feeling your age, Bob. Every generation remembers the good old days versus the terrible scary world we’re in today. I think it has always been hard. In the good old days, getting data on your own business was incredibly hard. Now with modern computers it’s much easier. In the good old days we had to wait forever to get inputs, sometimes a month after we mailed the letter to get the response. Now its just seconds by e-mail. In the good old days, making friends in distant lands and staying connected to them was arduous. Now with social media and e-mail and video chats its so much easier.

But what does all this matter? The leaders of today must learn, adapt, and strive to succeed…and many do. Ditto for the leaders of 2114 and 2214. It is our job, and it will be hard. That’s what makes it so fun! Great leaders thrive on challenge.

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To read all of Part 2, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

Rob cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

All about Mighty Midsized Companies link

Free assessments and other tools link

Rob’s consulting firm, CEO to CEO, website link

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