Developing entrepreneurs: 'Not every entrepreneur is a director'

How do you move yourself along as the business grows? In this column, entrepreneurs talk about their changing role and how they deal with it.

It was brave and certainly not easy: Gerrit Baarda - founder and owner of ZiuZ - stepped back three years ago in order to give his self-appointed managing director all the space he needed to run the company competently. Why? The role of CEO didn't sit well with him. Gerrit longed to return to his roots: developing products from scratch. And that is what he is now doing again full of energy.

Like most entrepreneurs, Gerrit started small. Together with co-founder Ed van den Brand, he started developing high-quality technology in the field of visual intelligence in 2002. They had a dream and after a few years of struggling were able to take serious steps, partly due to a financial boost from the NOM. After a period of natural growth, ZiuZ gained momentum in 2014. By then the company was already active worldwide, had a team of forty professionals and was voted Frisian Enterprise of the Year. An Advisory Board and a multi-year strategic plan emerged, heading for a big dot on the horizon.

Somewhere along the way to that big dot, Gerrit as CEO lost the energy and enthusiasm that had previously been so naturally present. 'My role had changed,' says the entrepreneur. 'Suddenly you're in an MT, have different tasks and responsibilities. At first I thought: you just have to get used to that. It will come. But I came home tired more and more often. I no longer did things at work that really energized me and felt more distant. Others said: that's part of the job. But it wasn't right for me. I was still enthusiastic about the company, but I no longer felt at home within ZiuZ. I was struggling too much with my role.

Developing entrepreneurs: 'Not every entrepreneur is a director'

The right man

'Three years ago it became clear. One day I wrote down: in five years I will no longer be a CEO. While I was writing it, I already knew that five years was far too long. This feeling had been there for some time; at that moment it was time to take steps. Coincidence or not, in previous years I had hired a manager for the ZiuZ Medical business unit who had a lot to offer: Bert Garlich. As soon as I suggested the idea to myself - someone else CEO - I knew he was the right man. I am a feeling person who approaches everything very openly; he is stronger on the rational side, able to create the clear frameworks that the company also needs. We are very complementary.

'Bert said a resounding yes, and then it really began,' Gerrit says. 'Making a decision is one thing, getting another foreman in the saddle on a daily basis is something else. It was already a challenge for ourselves, but it was for the whole company. People were used to talking to me about things and continued to do so at first. That's why I was deliberately less in the office the first six months and referred everything to Bert. Even though that sometimes went wrong. Then I reacted anyway or they saw on my face what I was thinking. Then I went straight to Bert. It was essential that I let him take his role. He was given all the authority and freedom of movement; he was the one who made the decisions from now on.'

Relationship Therapy

'Especially that first six months was crucial. I had to get behind him and warm up the trail. The tendency to keep discussing things with my co-founder Ed was a pitfall I was very aware of. I had to talk not about Bert, but with him. So we talked about even the smallest futilities, which was necessary to build trust and put him in charge. In that starting phase it was quite complicated to find the right form. Also in dealing with each other. I like to act informally, he businesslike. We talked a lot about that, also with a consultant, which we jokingly called relationship therapy.

It wasn't easy, that first phase, but Gerrit gladly made the effort for the sake of his company and his own job satisfaction. 'During that period I learned a lot about myself. Sometimes that was confronting. In an external training with entrepreneurs, we went out to sea in the Navy, deciding together who was at the helm. In the end, our boat was towed. What went wrong? We were all stubborn, figuratively taking the helm from whoever we had put there. So I had to guard against that in the situation at ZiuZ. Even though I am still the owner, Bert is now the director. My entrepreneurship may still be there, but within the innovative projects I lead. And in that, as CEO, Bert sets the frameworks.

I am a feeling person who approaches everything very openly

New opportunities

ZiuZ is thriving under Bert's leadership and Gerrit is thriving in his "new old role" as an innovative developer. 'The energy is right back. It was the best decision ever to stop being CEO. There is room again for my original strength. Not every entrepreneur is a director. I tasted that role, but it didn't taste good to me. All the more I enjoy the three challenging projects I'm doing in the medical field. Working on new opportunities for ZiuZ and new opportunities for the world through the use of visual intelligence.'

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