Who's Your Replacement?
“The graveyards are full of indispensable men!” — attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte
This article first appeared in Medium.com
In his eponymous autobiography, Michael Bloomberg wrote:
I want the loss of anyone in the company to hurt us, but not fatally, including the likes of me. Every job performance review I give my direct-reporting managers includes the question, ‘Who’s your replacement? If you don’t have one now, I can’t consider you for bigger things. If you don’t have one the next time I ask, you may no longer be a direct report.
One of the most important jobs of a great leader is to attract great talent. How adaptable you are as a firm depends in part upon how your company is organized, but most of all it depends upon the people operating it. Internal leaders are sometimes secretly afraid to bring in ultra-talented employees because they fear that these newcomers could challenge their status at the firm. A talented executive whose interests are aligned with the firm’s and is confident in her role will always recruit stars who exceed herself in various ways, but one who is worried about her value to the firm will not.
A great leader should make it clear to her team members that as a matter of culture her job is to replace herself. A new hire should know from the outset that she will ultimately have to bring in new talent to replace herself so that she can personally better herself and achieve loftier goals. A policy of knowing your replacement is one of the best ways to drive a growth culture. It anticipates and eliminates the most harmful politics in leadership for an expanding company, and instantly sets the right tone for a high talent, growth mindset executive team.
Moreover, to craft a truly durable company you have to plan for as many contingencies as possible. Many contingencies are all-too-human variables: injuries, illnesses, changes-of-plans, early retirements and so on. Vacancies in your company’s structure are essentially unpredictable, and can be very costly. The departure of key individuals kills morale, loyalty and productivity among your employees. Great leaders are paranoid by nature and always plan for contingencies. They always ask: “Where are the bottlenecks? Which people can I not afford to lose?”
Questions of management depth extend beyond hardship and transfer cases. For any rapidly growing company vacancies will be a recurring problem. Scaling up typically means hiring new employees to fill lower-level positions as your more experienced team members graduate into more senior roles…although it may also require you to introduce experienced executives directly.
On a personal note, I have always been of the mindset that my most talented friends and colleagues are the critical ingredient in my success. I’ve been proud of my entrepreneurial roles as a leader and builder of company culture, head of product, head of BD, or CEO of some companies I’ve helped to found such as Palantir and Addepar. However, I’ve been lucky to have consistently replaced myself with very talented colleagues in the specific areas needed by our companies. Usually when this occurs I begin building in other areas, or my replacements choose to keep me around to help out with mentorship, strategy, or fundraising in various ways — although some of them are perfectly happy without somebody looking over their shoulder and taking credit for their work! This has helped me expand the range of projects I can channel my energy into, attract an ecosystem of brilliant, talented individuals and foster growth cultures at the companies I have been a part of.
In order for a company to grow, its team members must grow themselves — and this means personal evolution into new roles and more ambitious assignments. We admire Bloomberg’s clarity of thought, and his success as a leader suggests we should pay closer attention when he shares this kind of wisdom.
So, who’s your replacement?
8VC Emerging Builders Spotlight: Scott Marin (Epirus)
Today we are highlighting Scott Martin from Epirus. Scott hails from Colorado where he had internships working on mmWave radar spatial mapping for the DARPA Subterranean Challenge, a Tier-II drone radar, and an in-flight internet module and studied under the esteemed Dr. Zoya Popovic at the University of Colorado - Boulder. He came to Epirus after deciding to defer pursuing a Masters degree due to the drop in education quality at the start of the covid pandemic. Since coming to Epirus, his growth as an RF engineer accelerated working on cutting-edge products with mentorship from the phenomenal Epirus team. In his free time, Scott enjoys climbing and backpacking.
Announcing 8VC Fund V
We are proud to announce 8VC Fund V, with $880 million in new capital to continue our work supporting and partnering with entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey, and building companies ourselves.
Fintech’s Next Frontier: Introducing Luminary
T&E is one of the last core elements of wealth management yet to be reimagined in dynamic, digital form. Doing so will unlock transformative possibilities.
8VC Emerging Builders Spotlight: Daniel Isen (Yugabyte)
Today we are highlighting Daniel Isen, a Member of the Technical Staff at Yugabyte. He was one of three engineers that started the YugabyteDB Managed project, their fully-managed database-as-a-service offering.
8VC Emerging Builders Spotlight: Erin Risk (Twingate)
We live in a time where folks are working from everywhere on their own devices – they are not tethered to a desk at an office on a company provided laptop. The surface area of what can go wrong has increased exponentially. Twingate was born out of this pain point to solve for rapidly evolving security needs.