January 23rd, 2019

Reflex CapitalBlogTitles

A few months after I founded my first business (there were eight of us), one American said, “Eight? Then you are President and the other seven are Senior Vice-Presidents.” It took me a long time to realize that it was not a joke, and it took me even longer to understand what he actually meant.

In corporations, the business card title is one of success symbols and a source of respect. In the end, it is understandable, because thousands or tens of thousands of employees have to find out who and how important one is. And fair to mention, when someone in a multinational corporation makes it from bottom to a Vice President, he probably needs to prove some abilities. That’s why even in startups, the founders somehow distribute the well-known functions, but the problem is, they often stick to them later on. However, in the startup world it’s different. The CFO can be the Shylock-in-Chief, and the CTO can put a Blessed Bitpushing Guru on the business card, and it does not matter. To a certain size, people just respect personality and professional qualities, charisma, the ability to do their job well, and lead the company so that it grows and thrives. Scientifically it is called leadership skills. Outside of the company it is a bit different. Successful people want to deal with successful people and nobody wants to deal with someone who is the car’s fifth wheel. And the business card title allows the company to visually “enlarge”. If the company has a senior vice president, it sounds like he is presiding some vice-presidents, each of whom leads several senior managers, and so on. The maid can be a Chief Sanitary Officer and, if the company has two drivers, one of them may be VP, Transportation and the other Car Fleet Manager.

And that was what the aforementioned American meant … the “who’s bigger” game. But it’s just a game and otherwise the titles are useless. Sometimes it even hurts. Often, it turns out that the business overcomes the skills of one of the founders and there is the need to hire someone better. Or that the founder at the start of the company took a role that did not fit him completely. But oops, when we’re hiring someone and the title is already taken, what to do? He’s got an ego, too? Then there is only one good solution. Just scratch that title off him without mercy. Nepotism destroys morale and eventually everyone’s just laughing at it. Company’s success is somewhat more important than an individual’s ego. The ego can not buy a house, a car or a yacht in the Pacific, and the kids of a startup founder will not be proud of their father was the senior vice president of a company that went bust. On the other hand, if someone builds a big and successful business from scratch, no one will be interested in what sort of a title he had on his business card. These people often do not have any… it’s enough to put just name and surname.

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