11/17/2015

Why I have to step down as CEO

At the end of this year, I will step down as CEO of Delaware Consulting BeLux. I will remain an active partner of Delaware Consulting, though. And I am anxious to find different ways to remain valuable for our company. For many people, this seems a weird decision. So why does this happen?

To make our company last

First and for all, because of the sustainability of Delaware Consulting. Already 12 years ago, when Luc Van Aelbroeck, Peter Oyserman and I conducted our management buyout, we had a dream we still cherish. It was to create a company that would last for more than 150 years. To realize this, we made some decisions regarding our structure and corporate governance.

We created a new partnership, leveraging on our experiences as partners of first Andersen and later Deloitte. We quickly realized that – in order to be able to retire as partners one day – we needed to ensure our own succession. To accomplish this, we had to foster and grow the next generation of leadership.

When you want to move your career forward at Delaware Consulting, you need to make yourself redundant in your current role. Why would this be different for our top management? As a consequence, our partnership agreement specifies a limit of 5 years for the roles of Managing Partner and Chairman of the Board, with a maximum extension of 1 year.

Delaware Consulting is, and must be built on individuals, not around individuals. Knowing your mandate ends at a specific and predefined date and wanting to still remain part of the organization afterwards, changes the way you behave and communicate. You are not tempted to get into a “divide et impera” (divide and conquer) attitude, trying to make yourself indispensable.

We also believe in a kind of organized chaos. Once everything runs smoothly, it may be valuable to create some change again. As a consequence, the organization and its people need to find their balance again and question things that had already been taken for granted. Inducing change from time to time helps us to strengthen our agility and keep on searching for optimization.

To keep evolving myself

My career has allowed me to learn many things already, but there is one thing that clearly stands out. It is that in order to grow as a leader, you need to let go of control. This way, you do not become your own bottleneck. Knowing that inherently I’m rather a control freak, this has never been easy for me.

Another thing the past has taught me is that giving up power often results in gaining influence. I experienced that the moment people could not suspect me of having a hidden agenda anymore, they tended to listen and react differently to what I said.

I also feel it is time for me to jump on another learning curve. During the past 6 years, I have definitely learned tremendously but I also feel that my speed of improving is slowing down. So, getting out of my comfort zone again by changing my role will allow me to start doing things anew. It will force me to find solutions to questions that are new to me again.

An easy thing to do?

This is something I clearly underestimated. I have always been a firm defender to limit mandates in time. Still, I have to admit that I have been through an emotional dip during the first months of this year. After a thorough selection process, Patrick Andersen was appointed as my successor. The change had finally become concrete: everything was planned and decided and I realized that my term would end within the year.

It will not be a surprise that being CEO of Delaware Consulting is a pleasure most of the time, and an absolute honor. Letting go of that was clearly more difficult than I anticipated. Today, however, I’m really looking forward to it. I’m sure Patrick will not just replace me in my current role, but will ensure continuity while questioning some things I already took for granted. New brooms sweep clean…

Next to this, I will enjoy spending more time at our customers again. My new challenges to preparing our sales team for the future and supporting our brand new Delaware Consulting entity in Sâo Paulo, definitely appeal to me. Besides these new roles, there is an abundance of opportunities to change, improve and support in a young, growing and vibrant company like ours.

Let me end with a quote of Winston Churchill:

To improve is to change.
To be perfect is to change often.


Author: Jan Delaere. You can follow Jan on Twitter (@delaerej) or connect with him on LinkedIn