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Lorna Vanderhaeghe, founder, president and chief executive officer of Lorna Vanderhaeghe Health Solutions Inc. (Rafal Gerszak FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Lorna Vanderhaeghe, founder, president and chief executive officer of Lorna Vanderhaeghe Health Solutions Inc. (Rafal Gerszak FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE CHALLENGE

Can you effectively run a business when you're rarely there? Add to ...

Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue.

Lorna Vanderhaeghe spends every other week, nine months of the year, on the road, pitching the Vancouver-based developer, maker and distributor of nutritional health supplements for women that she founded in 2001.

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As the face of eponymous Lorna Vanderhaeghe Health Solutions Inc., she spends her time out of the office criss-crossing the country to give lectures, train retailers, conduct media interviews and meet with key accounts.

All of that absence makes it difficult for the president and chief executive officer of the company to manage from a distance.

“There are few companies that have the founder and CEO as the brand,” Ms. Vanderhaeghe says.

“I have to be out educating and doing PR, but I have a company to run, with manufacturing, overseeing inventory control, marketing, sales, while also doing all the publicity.”

Her company, which also has a publishing arm, has enjoyed rapid growth, with revenue climbing 1,200 per cent over the past two years to reach $5.8-million – a figure she expects to further double this year with expansion into the U.S. market.

But that only puts more pressure on the need to manage the business.

Ms. Vanderhaeghe has recently hired a vice-president of sales, a general manager and an office manager, and also has managers in place in finance, research and development and information technology, as well as an in-house publicist to book all of her appearances.

She says she still sees holes. For instance, “I need to hire a marketing manager...[and] a manager for our publishing division.”

But making new hires while she is away so much is difficult, she says.

Even with some managers in place, she says she still oversees all departments of the company and its 19 employees herself from afar, communicating through texts, e-mail and phones.

“My biggest challenge is managing people while I am on the road – distance management,” Ms. Vanderhaeghe says.

The Challenge: How can the founder best manage the rapidly growing company from afar?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Sandy Huang, president of Vancouver-based  Pinpoint Tactics

The owner or the manager needs to create a clear vision that determines where she wants to go with the company, and it has to be communicated to all employees.

It would be good if she had a strategic plan in place so that she knows where she wants to take the company and how to get there. I usually tell people to work backwards and ask where will she be in 20 to 30 years. And to actually develop a strategy for passing the company on to the next generation. Knowing that big picture really changes how you make decisions.

When a business reaches a certain stage of success, it become impossible for one person to oversee every department. I think it would be quite crucial for her to hire a human resources director, someone who can deal with the hiring issue, and then delegate all of the hiring responsibility to this person. It could even be someone internally, but because she is growing so quickly, she definitely needs to hire a professional. Then she would just need to manage the top three or four or five people.

Mark Evans, principal, ME Consulting, Toronto

At some point, a CEO has to realize they can’t personally be involved in all aspects of the business. It’s easy when you’re small and growing, but difficult, if not impossible, as you get bigger.

The first step is accepting that your company will grow more efficiently and quickly if you hire top-quality people to handle key parts of the business, such as finance, operations, sales, marketing and HR.

Then you need to give these people a clear mandate and the responsibility to do their jobs. It doesn’t mean that the CEO isn’t involved, but they can avoid some or much of the grunt work and get involved if and when a decision has to be made.

The process involves a key ingredient: trust. It can be difficult because many entrepreneurs are so immersed and married to their businesses, it can be a challenge to let other people take care of their baby.

It can be a leap of faith, but entrepreneurs who buy into the idea of hiring top-quality people will discover it liberates them and lets them focus on the things that are more important or that they enjoy the most.

I would advise [her] to embrace and enjoy the role of key corporate spokesperson, evangelist and public face.

Charles Chang, president of Port Coquitlam, B.C.-based Vega Ltd.

We’ve faced similar growth challenges, pretty much doubling in sales every year, and, much like [Ms. Vanderhaeghe], I used to wear all the hats, on the road more than 50 per cent of the time, selling and educating. I found the more I travelled, the more things fell apart back at the office. It wasn’t long before I became the bottleneck for our company.

Our solution was to create a dedicated spokesperson role, who took over the entire front of house and did all our education, speaking engagements and special events. This allowed me to focus on our back of house, which is the strategic and operational running of the business.

Because [Ms. Vanderhaeghe] is the face of her brand, my suggestion is to hire a very competent and experienced general manager to run the back of house for her company so she can focus on what she does best. But be careful not to abdicate responsibility just because you’ve hired a GM – even the best people need to be actively and attentively managed. That means constant two-way communication.

At Vega, we have made human resources our top priority with…open-book management, weekly one-to-one meetings, monthly town hall meetings, quarterly goal-setting with bonuses tied to performance, annual coaching/ personal development program, education fund, individually customized benefits package, fitness subsidy, complimentary product and in-house chef. We take care of our team and in turn they perform at their best.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY CAN DO NOW

Hire a head of HR

Bring on a director of human resources to handle hiring responsibilities.

Create a long-term plan

Put a strategic plan in place of where the company is headed, and how it will get there. Mapping out the big picture helps shape decisions.

Let go

Realize it’s impossible to oversee every department; focus on being the company’s public face and evangelist and delegate other responsibilities. Manage a small layer of managers.

Facing a challenge? If your company could use expert help, please contact us at smallbusiness@globeandmail.com

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