It is natural for entrepreneurs and founders to want to control the destiny of their company. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are often cited as examples of why a founder should stay in control.
In this example, Zuckerberg owned less than 30 per cent of Facebook; however, he maintained a controlling vote through multiple voting rights. These voting rights enabled him to singlehandedly buy Instagram for over $1 billion without board approval.
Some entrepreneurial observers may say that this is a good thing. Others who have been schooled in corporate governance would suggest too much power rested in one shareholder’s hands, and one who holds less than 50 per cent of the equity of the company. This example of a lack of corporate governance points a founder in the direction of how a private company and its strategic direction should be directed and controlled, while maintaining the vision the founders had when they formed the company.
When a company accepts equity investment from outside shareholders, the shareholders have an expectation that their rights will be protected by the board of directors. For a growth stage company, these many responsibilities become burdensome. I agree with most founders that their primary responsibility is to drive product development and acquire profitable customers. A founder who is both comfortable with and understands the alignment of the vision and strategic direction should be comfortable handing off some of the leadership responsibilities that guide the company.
Best practices of corporate governance for a public company separate the role of CEO of the company and the chairperson of the board of directors, often referred to as the non-executive chairperson or lead director. Under this structure, the CEO manages the affairs of the company under the direction of the board, and the governance structure or board of directors and its members are managed by the non-executive chairperson. Many founders are concerned with a loss of control in this structure; however, they need not be. With a strong selection process that was developed from a skills matrix, and a desire to have open and regular communication between the two roles, the company should be positioned for success.
The benefits of this structure are many; however, the ones that are most important to shareholder value include:
1. Increased share price on acquisition
2. Investor due diligence is smoother
3. Greater interest in follow-on investment rounds
4. Increased transparency through supplying shareholder information
5. Increased accountability of management
6. Stronger risk and crisis management policies
7. Stronger customer acquisition process resulted from customers’ appreciation that the company is stronger than its individual executives.
8. Competitors take notice of the seriousness of your company’s approach
9. Creates environment for innovative change
The use of a non-executive chairperson for a private corporation, including early and growth stage companies, allows the company to start acting as if the company is structured for success and is serious about its responsibilities to shareholders, customers, and staff.