Big Cheese

General Managers Are Created, Not Found

It's common knowledge that a successful business needs an informed, educated leader to set the business' goals and strategies. The owner of the company is the business' navigator, responsible for setting the destination, researching the route and executing the trip.

Unfortunately, many owners often have a day filled with detailed chores: answer the phone, read financial report, update web site, go to auction, solve customer complaint and cover for sick employee. The problem is too many hats. How can an owner see the destination while buried under hats?

Take control of the business; hire a general manager. Screech ... what? I know there are rapid-fire objections at the mere mention of getting help. The beauty of a general manager is there isn't a set job description. Every business owner requires a different set of responsibilities, tasks and skillsets of a second-in-command. That's because the main job functions are to do the things the business owner doesn't want to do, make the owner's life easier and fill in for the owner when needed.

A few more reasons to hire a general manager:

  • Hospitalization. It's stressful for a family, especially without the leader to keep the business moving. A general manager keeps the business doors open, gets funds to the family for hospital bills and eases the stress of family members trying to 'learn the ropes' under duress.
  • Expansion. With a second-in-command, an owner is in two places at once.
  • Retirement. Owners nearing retirement can ease out of the business before turning it over to a family member; or groom the general manager to become the new owner.
  • Growth. A successful business needs a lot of attention. A general manager provides another set of eyes and ears for problems and can act as a sounding board before making big decisions.

In order for a candidate to be 'perfect,' the owner must analyze his or her strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of every task the owner is currently doing. Then separate the list into two columns. The first column contains the tasks the owner loves, does the best, and finds energizing. The second column lists the tasks the owner hates, is the worst at and finds draining.

The second column is the beginnings of a general manager job description. By looking at the two columns, it may be obvious that the owner is more mechanical than creative. If so, someone with vision and communication skills strengthens the business.

There are still a few essentials to be successful. The ability to communicate effectively is critical. Clear communication in person, on the phone and in e-mail or

letters will prevent misunderstandings between the owner and employees and the customers. Management experience should be a requirement. Industry experience should not. Most importantly, the new general manager must have the same set of values as the owner. This will help keep them in synch.

Decide how much sensitive data and confidential information to share before hiring. Then consider responsibilities like managing processes, systems and procedures, managing supplies and resources, marketing skills, travel to company events and financial acumen.

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