How to hire your own replacement

Fresh Intelligence founder Corrine Sandler was itching to start a new business. Here’s how she found someone she trusted to take over

Fresh Intelligence founder Corrine Sandler.

Fresh Intelligence founder Corrine Sandler.

When entrepreneur Corrine Sandler chose to leave her company, Fresh Intelligence, to build another, she hired and groomed her successor—and learned to butt out:

“I hired Joshua Cormie in 2012 on the premise that he would one day run Fresh Intelligence, the company I founded and built. I thought that as CEO I’d done everything I could do; it was time for new leadership. And I wanted a new, exciting challenge, to build a new company, which I have done with ValidateIt Technologies—the business I now run.

“When I made the decision to leave, I created an 18-month timeline. I put together a document that highlighted all my roles and responsibilities, and explained how we would transition those over time. Josh and I worked on that document together.

“It was a gradual process, and that was a good thing. We didn’t tell anyone outside the senior executive team about the change, but people saw me stepping away and Josh taking more responsibility; he would lead our planning sessions, which I used to lead, for instance. So when the time came to announce that Josh would replace me as CEO, our employees were already used to him in a leadership role. As a result, they totally embraced the change. That was critical to a smooth transition.

“I am still the majority shareholder, and I still look at the numbers every month. But I no longer have anything to do with the actual running of the company, and it has sometimes been hard to relinquish control. Right after the transition, I found myself jumping in a lot at meetings. But Josh challenged me, and that was great. I had to learn to step back and acknowledge that, ultimately, these were his decisions. Once I did that, it conveyed that I had confidence in him. He was able to take ownership.

“I think our transition has been successful for two reasons. First, I had another project to move on to in ValidateIt. If I didn’t have the passion of developing something new, I would have been constantly putting my fingers in the pie. Second, I was 100% confident in the person I’d chosen to take over, on both a personal and a professional level. You have to really like and have implicit trust in the person, because the whole experience is like saying, ‘Here is my child. Look after him.’”