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The Lonely CEO

Written by Joe Aherne, CEO, ReganStein

Recent research by Ultimate Finance revealed that over 73% of business owners admit to having felt lonely whilst running their businesses. According to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office, there are 248,000 small, medium enterprises (SME) active in Ireland and nearly 1m people are employed by the SME sector, therefore they represent the backbone of the Irish economy. This widespread feeling of isolation throughout the SME community paints a worrying picture for all concerned.

The benefits of running your own business or being a CEO of an SME, are huge. However, the job comes with real pressures and responsibilities especially when times get tough.

With the current Brexit uncertainties and economic volatility, Enterprise Ireland continues to be hugely proactive in supporting CEO’s in the SME sector in the form of financial support, workshops and advice.

The issues and challenges faced by SME’s are however wide and varied – there are pressures around strategy, growth, competitors, new product development, marketing, lead generation, access to funding and cash flows. These are particularly strong among those striving to grow and succeed in local and foreign markets.

Business owners come from varied business disciplines and academic qualifications and don’t always have the necessary skillsets or supports to make the right decisions for themselves and their businesses. The business might be relatively new (say 1-3 years) and the owner doesn’t always have the financial supports to recruit full time staff to manage the various operational and strategic activities required.  For those businesses that have stagnated from a growth perspective and hit what we call the “glass ceiling”, they might lack the specialist skills or know-how to help them “cross the chasm” and move their businesses forward.

Some companies have appointed independent non-executive directors and these has been hugely beneficial as a support system and to share the stresses encountered by owner managers. Others have found it frustrating and difficult to identify and secure the “right fit” professionals to act as directors. The changing landscape of directors duties in Ireland and increased fiduciary responsibilities are significant and will make it more difficult for SME’s to appoint these directors in the future.

Building a proper support structure for SME owners is critical and necessary in light of the survey results above – they cannot do it all on their own. Leaders need a safe place to think and someone to talk to that can offer them advice and counsel that is independent and based on trust and experience. Learning to accept feedback from trusted advisors ultimately makes for a more resilient leader. After all, how do you know if an idea is any good without having the opinion of a trusted colleague or adviser to rely on?

Throughout the development and growth of the Leading Edge Group, our business has continued to encounter what people call “bumps in the road” and none-worse than the recent economic recession in Ireland. These were stressful and lonely times but I have been lucky to work with trusted advisors who supported me in the areas of international growth strategy, digital marketing, international sales and product development. Without this specialist support, our business would not be where it is today.

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We at ReganStein have handpicked a number of specialist advisors who can support our CEO colleagues through our Executive Panel of Experts. These specialists have experience of establishing companies, growing businesses in international markets, developing value propositions and business models, merging like businesses and preparing businesses for sale as part of an overall strategic plan. You mightn’t find all the advice in a business book, but in his instance you will know it works!

Find out more about ReganStein by contacting our Operations Manager, Ciara Murphy at cmurphy@reganstein.com.