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Who's at the helm?

  • Mike Rorie
- Posted: August 1, 2015
Most small businesses never make it to a level where a full-time chief executive officer makes it to the payroll - a true CEO, the admiral of the ship. This is not to be mistaken with the ship’s captain, which is usually the person who started the company as an operator and might still be involved in operations every so often or quite possibly every day.

Small business owners (captains) are usually so consumed with day-to-day requirements that they put their CEO (admiral) responsibilities on the back burner. There usually isn’t a dedicated person who is devoting the majority of their time up in the tower, so to speak, looking through the binoculars and gaining perspective on what’s going on in the market before they call down to the captain and the crew. That means the company is missing someone who is focused on the company’s vision and competitive strategy.

A CEO works full-time on the business, not in it - and for most small businesses this is hard to achieve. Having the revenue or the discipline to either hire or develop someone from inside your company to the point where you become the full-time CEO is a huge undertaking and not easily achievable.

In other words, it’s very difficult for small business owners to get to the point where every operating need in the business is fulfilled by a competent, experienced veteran in the company. 

Why? Because when everyone is in the weeds, including the person who is supposed to be the visionary, it’s tough to  steer the company toward growth.

Make CEO duties a priority
If a small business owner cannot become a dedicated full-time CEO and cannot hire one, how do they provide vision and strategy to the company? 

An owner needs to understand that he or she needs some professional direction in one way or another. Strategic planning is essential. If you can set aside some time and money to do some planning and start this process, there are an abundance of resources available: 
  • There are plenty of business books to help you develop and grow as a leader. I always recommend “The E-Myth Contractor: Why Most Contractors’ Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It” by Michael Gerber. It helped me view my business differently.
  • Seeking help from consultants is another avenue. They seem expensive but can be worth it. Getting an unbiased, outside perspective from someone with industry knowledge is very valuable and usually worth the time and money. 
  • I always advocate industry organizations, events and education. Get involved with your state trade organization, and, of course, SIMA. You can find out about any topic and hone any skill by meeting your peers, learning about their experiences, and applying what they’ve learned to your business. 

These resources can help you start the strategic planning process and identify critical issues in your business. The next step is to develop a plan to implement changes required to move forward. After that it’s monitoring the implementation and adjusting things to keep everything on track for the desired result. 

These resources can help with implementation too, but successful strategic planning and implementation really comes down to dedicating your time and attention to staying on top of it and seeing the plan through.

A constant process
This process is never ending. Once you’ve put something in motion, your plan and the actions that result from it need monitored, adjusted, and maybe overhauled from time to time. And there has to be someone at your company who can devote time to do these things, whether it’s you or someone else. 

It’s up to you to seek out these resources and take action. It’s hard work, but if you don’t take care of your CEO responsibilities and work toward setting yourself up for success, you’ll likely make it harder for yourself in the end. 

So what are you waiting for? Get up in the tower, take a look through the binoculars and start planning where you want to take your company and how to get there.  

Mike Rorie has been a participant in the snow and ice industry for over three decades. He is now CEO of GIS Dynamics, parent company to Go iLawn and Go iPave. Contact him at
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