A CEO’s everything, especially in a startup. The CEO is responsible for the success or failure of the company. Operations, marketing, strategy, financing, creation of company culture, human resources, hiring, firing, compliance with safety regulations, sales, PR, etc. it all falls on the CEO’s shoulders.
The CEO’s are what she actually , the responsibilities she doesn’t delegate. Some things can’t be delegated. Creating culture, building the senior management team, financing road shows, and, indeed, the delegation itself can be done only by the CEO.
Many start-up CEOs think fund-raising is their most important duty. I disagree. Fund-raising is necessary, but the CEOs contribution is in building a superb business with the money raised.
The senior management team can help develop strategy. Investors can approve a business plan. But the CEO ultimately sets the direction. Which markets will the company enter? Against which competitors? With what product lines? How will the company differentiate itself? The CEO decides, sets budgets, forms partnerships, and hires a team to steer the company accordingly.
Work gets done through people, and people are profoundly affected by culture. A lousy place to work can drive away high performers. After all, they have their pick of places to work. And a great place to work can attract and retain the very best.
Culture is built in dozens of ways, and the CEO sets the tone. Her every action—or inaction—sends cultural messages (see "Life Under a Magnifying Glass"). Clothes send signals about how formal the workplace is. Who she talks to signals who is and isn’t important. How she treats mistakes (feedback or failure?) sends signals about risk-taking. Who she fires, what she puts up with, and what she rewards shape the culture powerfully.
A project team worked weekends launching a multimedia web site on a tight deadline. Their CEO was on holiday when the site launched. She didn’t call to congratulate the team. To her, it was a matter of keeping her personal life sacred. To the team, it was a message that her personal life was more important than the weekends and evenings they had put in to meet the deadline. Next time, they may not work quite so hard. The emotion and effect on the culture was real, even if it wasn’t what the CEO intended. Congratulations from the CEO on a job well done can motivate a team like nothing else. Silence can demotivate just as quickly.
The CEO hires, fires, and leads the senior management team. They, in turn, hire, fire, and lead the rest of the organization.
The CEO must be able to hire fire non-performers. She must resolve differences between senior team members, and keep them working together in a common direction. She sets direction by communicating the strategy and vision of where the company is going. With clear direction, the team can rally together and make it happen.
Don’t underestimate the power of setting direction. In 1991, at Intuit’s new employee orientation, CEO Scott Cook presented his vision of Intuit as the center of computerized personal finance. Intuit had just 120 employees and one product. Ten years later, it’s a billion-dollar company with thousands of employees and dozens of products. Worldwide, it is the winner in personal finance, bar none. The success is due in no small part to every Intuit employee knowing and sharing the company’s vision and strategy.
If vision is the company is going, Values outline acceptable behavior. The CEO conveys values through actions and reactions to others. Slipping a ship schedule to meet quality levels sends a message of valuing quality. over-celebrating a team’s heroic recovery when they could have avoided a problem altogether sends a message about prevention versus damage control. People take their cues about interpersonal values—trust, honesty, openness—from CEO’s actions as well.
The CEO sets budgets within the firm. She funds projects which support the strategy, and ramps down projects which lose money or don’t support the strategy. She considers carefully the company’s major expenditures, and manages the firm’s capital. If the company can’t use each dollar raised from investors to produce at least $1 of shareholder value, she decides when to return money to the investors. Some CEOs don’t consider themselves financial people, but at the end of the day, it is their decisions that determine the company’s financial fate.