Business succession planning: how Tamara Lohan made the leap and let go

One of the most important aspects of successful leadership is knowing when and how to let go. Whether the business needs fresh skills at the top, the founder needs to focus where they’re needed most or it’s simply time to move on, breaking up is hard to do. Tamara Lohan, co-founder of exclusive hotel site Mr & Mrs Smith, explains how she recently replaced herself as CTO and fitted into a new role.

Business succession planning: how Tamara Lohan made the leap and let go

Being a leader often means having difficult conversations and making difficult decisions. Ultimately, in a market where many businesses simply don’t survive, it’s essential to put the company first sometimes. To consider where it’s going, how it’s going to get there, how it will be monetised and what might need to change for all of this to happen – including knowing when to bring in fresh talent and consider letting someone go. Even if that ‘someone’ is yourself.

Letting go

In February this year, I brought in a new CTO – having performed that role myself for the last 15 years. And while it was difficult emotionally, it's also one of the best things I've done.

Succession planning is vital for any business, and it means bringing on people within the business as well as external help when necessary. Knowing when the time is right to step back can be a challenge.

For me, the point where I realised that I was no longer the right person to be the CTO was driven by two things: I needed a new challenge for myself, and the business had reached a point where it needed some fresh skills and a change of leadership.

It’s not a decision you make overnight. I thought about it for a long period of time. You need to get comfortable with it, especially if you're both the owner and the founder pulling back in any way, shape or form is incredibly difficult, so you need to take time. Talk it through with people whose opinion you value. Ask yourself what you really believe is truly best for the business. For entrepreneurs, what’s good for the business is usually also good for you.

The right person for the job

If it’s the right move, stepping away is actually easier than you might think. Once you've made that mental leap, it takes the weight off your shoulders. Bringing in good people – people who are better placed than you to progress the business – is always a good move.

In truth, entrepreneurs like me tend to be control freaks. You want to do everything and you think you can do it quicker than anybody else. But that’s not scalable, and it will eventually limit your business. There will come a point where you need to bring in people, that’s inevitable. So focus your energy on finding the right people, and let them do things their way.

Accept that they may not do a task in exactly the same way as you would, but they will get it done. They may even do it better than you. Trust the talent you have selected and suddenly you can go and do other things.

Focus on the future

Letting go doesn’t have to mean letting go completely. It can help to think of it as freedom. Freedom to choose to concentrate either on other areas of the business where you're most needed, or on something completely different.

I chose to transition into an operations role, taking charge of optimising our global operational efficiency, so that we can scale. It’s a fantastic challenge.

We often think of our business as our baby. Naturally, you want that child to fulfil its potential. That’s where I am now – imagining what my ‘baby’ will be doing months and years from now. I will always take pride in its accomplishments, however independent of me those accomplishments one day come to be!

Planning effectively for a business exit is not just about preparing for the moment of sale, it is also about planning for the life you and your family want afterwards. At HSBC Private Banking, we can help you draw up a robust plan to make sure your personal interests, and future wealth, are at the very heart of your exit strategy. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

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