CEO or business owner?

Jul 08, 2019

“Are you trying to play the role of the high-flying entrepreneurial CEO in a large firm with lots of resources instead of thinking of yourself as a business owner?”

While most every reader of this publication knows I am a big fan of entrepreneurship – I have founded two Inc. 500/5000 companies as well as served as a professor of entrepreneurship for 15 years – not everyone is or should be an entrepreneur. And not every AEC firm is an entrepreneurial venture. What that means is not every firm needs someone functioning as a “CEO” in the classic sense, where this person is completely occupied with the more esoteric aspects of the business such as designing and implementing a strategic plan.

Not to say that every firm doesn’t need a business plan. They do. It’s crucial to your success. But it only has so much value – especially in the short term. The fact is most AEC firms need something else, like more activities geared toward the day-to-day survival and profitability of the enterprise. And the top person – if he or she is too preoccupied with the CEO role and longer term, mission/vision/strategy issues – can easily lose their way and FORGET they are owners of a smaller- to mid-size business (and that’s what 98 percent of AEC firms are).

Remember that the primary thrust of an entrepreneurial venture is to create value for the owners upon exit. But if you ever want to achieve that lofty and worthwhile goal, your first order of business is to have a viable, profitable business and prove it, every day, over an extended period of time.

That means the top person must be preoccupied with selling every client and project, with recruiting competent people, with producing quality work that everyone can be proud of, with getting bills out and collecting what’s owed, and with not getting sued by someone. These are not necessarily “CEO” level activities in the traditional definition of the role, yet they have to be done well. Whoever is at the helm may need to be personally involved in each of them on a daily basis if they want to see them executed properly. That takes time. Your priorities have to be clear.

Sometimes, I think people get bored with the businesses that they run. Or, they get to feeling they are selling themselves short intellectually if they don’t seek out new business challenges. Then they take their eye off the “bird in hand” and start chasing after other birds in the bush. That means they forget their short-term priorities and lose track of what’s important to their survival and prosperity today. I understand how this can happen. I’m sure I have done just that at various times in my professional past.

How about you, though? Are you trying to play the role of the high-flying entrepreneurial CEO in a large firm with lots of resources instead of thinking of yourself as a business owner? If so, get back to your real priorities now before it’s too late!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.