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Talking Business: Working for a founder owner can be challenging

Do you have what it takes to work for a fashion entrepreneur and is it a good career move for an aspiring chief executive, asks Nicola Wensley, director of fashion, executive appointments at recruitment firm Page Executive.

Of the Drapers Top 100 list of the most influential people in fashion last year, more than a third were entrepreneurs. The likes of Sir Philip Green, David Reiss and even Victoria Beckham are examples of those that have the ability to spot opportunity, develop a brand and drive a business through their vision. They have the mix of defiance and utter resilience to create their own successful brands against all odds.

But is it a good longer term career move to work for a fashion entrepreneur? And if so, what skills do you need or could you acquire from working in such an environment? Over the last 10 years, I have seen good people move from a more corporate background to work for owner founders and vice versa, many of whom have struggled to succeed in this new environment. Some have lasted as little as six months in a new role.

There are many reasons for this. Entrepreneurs have a tendency to hire a candidate predominantly based on chemistry during the interview process. They are drawn to people they feel they can trust, and those who appear to align their goals with the vision of the business. However, when in they take up the role and the glow of that chemistry fades, those who prefer to have a more influential role within a company and enjoy structure have struggled to fit into this slightly more chaotic way of working.

If you have the drive, organisational skills and patience to interpret the ever changing priorities and achieve the vision of an owner, you will last a lot longer. Candidates who succeed within owner operated businesses are those with the humility to allow the owner to take complete control. They mirror the entrepreneur and accept that work becomes their life, their boss is part of the family and they thrive in going above and beyond their job description.

So if you manage to transition, is it a good career move? On one hand yes - the exposure to such drive and passion will enable you to gain skills and experience that you wouldn’t be exposed to in a more corporate organisation. For example raising and managing finances, taking unmitigated risks, working beyond your role and outside of your comfort zone, and managing and influencing varying eccentric personalities. These are all skills that will undoubtedly help in future leadership roles.

However, beware. To stay and take over as number one is very rare. Often promised, but not delivered. Owners rarely relinquish control unless absolutely necessary and they are don’t take note of the normal retirement age! Having said that, on the rare occasions they do look for a successor, this person has usually been groomed internally as they need to be entrusted to eat, breath and dream the same culture as the owner.

Ultimately, having achieved longer term success in various ownership of companies provides a good skill set and experience to help your career path to the top; just ensure you have thoroughly considered the transition and try to stick it out for more than six months.

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