Anthony Tattum, Founder of Big Cat in Birmingham, discusses what went wrong when he began the process of passing down the leadership position to another employee.
A few years ago, Anthony wanted to take a step back from his agency and become a chairman, leaving someone else to manage its day-to-day running. He promoted one of his colleagues to a Managing Director role, and it did not go well. Anthony tells the story of what went wrong.
After splitting with his founding business partner in 2016, Anthony was keen ‘to invest in building the events team within Big Cat’ and ‘focus on marketing services’. He also began the process of recruiting ‘a strong leadership team’ and transitioned into a structure where he had a team of ‘directors heading up the different divisions; PR, Marketing and Creative’.
As his agency moved into 2017, Anthony explains that ‘the process started to fall into place, everything clicked’. ‘The pipeline was full of green, and we logged our best financial year to date, so I was confident in my approach that we had got it right.’
Anthony then went on to discuss why he wished to break this structure that worked so well. ‘You’re told by advisors to have a 5-year exit strategy, and between 2015-2020 I was on that trajectory’.
‘I mentioned this to my Marketing Director, she was brilliant, great with integrating and working with the other directors – so I thought “ideal” she is just like me’. ‘I hadn’t really clicked at the time that people that work in big companies, aren’t necessarily good entrepreneurs. ‘I was instilling in her the commercials, and handing over the reins with the bigger clients, and it seemed to be going really well.’
In the following months Anthony worked with his then Marketing Director, ‘preparing her for to take over as Managing Director’. He explores how they both ‘made plans across finance, HR and new business’ and had ‘constant meetings to coach her’ ready for the new role.
Anthony suggests that at the time, he ‘didn’t see any warning signs, she didn’t put her hand up and say she wasn’t coping too well, but then she had to go off for two weeks with stress.’
‘That blinded sided me because I really didn’t expect that – we’ve lost the star player, now what do we do?’
Anthony explains how he worked with her constantly, devising plans to ease her back in and coming up with ways to distribute any extra work to other colleagues.
Anthony appointed the person in discussion as MD on 1st July 2018.
Anthony shares that ‘3 months into her lead, the lead developer left and then someone else left, we hadn’t had anyone leave for a while before this’.
‘She then needed more time off because she couldn’t handle the additional pressure. She couldn’t delegate enough to others, she was trying to train the team, monitor the clients, check the P&L, manage sales – in September it all came to a head, as another person handed in their notice.’
‘The wheels completely fell off in September 2018. Talking to others, it was suggested she had completely changed ‘over-night’, instead of her usual approachable coach who helped people through their problems, she had become someone who was described as ‘a red penner’, who would give no feedback just mark it as wrong.’
‘By the end of it, two thirds of the agency had left.’