Essential employees for building any company

By: Rich Russakoff

“Hire people who are better than you, then leave them to get on with it.”   –David Ogilvy

I know, I know – you want to do it all. Entrepreneurs are slow to give up the reins to others. We want to manage our company’s finances, be in charge of all employees, send our own emails, control the marketing, and so on. However, after a certain level of growth as a company, hiring the right people is absolutely crucial to continued success. These are the five positions I consider critical.  

  1. Chief Financial Officer / Controller

Simply put, you need a numbers person. This is the individual responsible for all financial aspects of the company: budgets, employee compensation, profit sharing programs, cash flow, inventory management, trends, etc. The CFO’s importance cannot be overstated, because they ensure the profitability of your company. A great CFO should be able to generate and provide real time financial ratios, reports and analysis in vital areas such as sales, top account activity, specific inventory and industry trends, and profitability by profit center and geographic regions.  

When I give seminars, I often hear CEOs say that they just cannot afford a competent and experienced financial professional. One company expressed that a good CFO in New York City would cost them at least $200,000 a year, which simply was not feasible. In today’s age, the virtual CFO is a great option for companies in this boat. You can use the services of an experienced CFO for a much more manageable monthly cost.  


  1. Sales or Marketing Director

One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is to take a great salesperson and elevate them to sales manager. Unfortunately, what makes someone a great salesperson is not what makes a good manager. It’s more important that your salespeople sell, and that your sales manager manage the people who sell.

In my experience, most salespeople have the temperament of children. They constantly want their ego stroked and prefer to take short cuts rather than do the hard work that lead development requires. Your sales manager should be a leader, someone who can inspire and motivate the people under them to succeed in their roles as salespeople. The sales manager must be a team player who looks out for “we” instead of looking out for “me.” Some defining attributes for a great sales manager include: they embrace change and help their team adjust accordingly, they hold salespeople accountable, they boost their salespeople’s confidence, and they find ways to get results while allowing people to work in their individual styles.

Ultimately, your sales manager drives the results of your sales team.


  1. Chief Operating Officer

The COO keeps the trains running, and running on the right track. They also take ownership and responsibility for the day-to-day operations: overseeing systems, processes and employees. They are in charge of what it takes to meet the company’s goals. The COO is the person responsible for execution.  


  1. Administrative Assistant

An administrative assistant is responsible for handling tasks on behalf of the CEO (and possibly other members of leadership), such as: managing calendars and contact lists, overseeing the filing and archival system, and coordinating travel arrangements. You need someone who is reliable, driven, organized, self sufficient, versatile, client-oriented, and communicative. If the COO keeps the trainings running, the administrative assistant should keep you running.

What do you think all billionaires have in common? They have an executive assistant making a six-figure salary, with many earning bonuses or equity in addition to that. Remember: Without an administrative assistant, you are your own administrative assistant.


  1. Coach

A business coach is vital in taking your company to the next level. A coach provides real time guidance and specialized advice in handling growth. The best coach will have expertise in the areas you lack it, and should truly make you a better CEO.  

As a Coach myself, I may be a little biased here – so I will let my former clients do the speaking as to the importance of coaching.

Brett Hatton, the founder of Four Hands, upon receiving the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award: “I would not be standing here today without Rich’s guidance and support. He is my coach and mentor and has been an endless source of knowledge, wisdom, motivation and business expertise.”
Kevin Sypolt of Padma’s Plantation said: “He offers great solutions that are not theory based but solutions that can impact your business immediately.”  

Similarly, Ruben Cantu of Core Media stated: “He has been transformative in the way I think and deal with situations.”  


You may be thinking, “Can my sales guy also be my operations director?” In start up companies, during the first real stage of growth, the mantra is “everybody does everything.” Once a company grows beyond 10 or 20 people and has established a clear market niche, it’s time to make the transition into specialized roles. Departments should begin to emerge, and it is essential to designate specialists. Someone must be responsible and accountable for each crucial area. If one person is doing multiple functions, no one is responsible or accountable for any one area. This makes scaling much more difficult. As you grow, you need the right skills in place in each department.


Try this out:

If your company is still under 10-20 employees, write of list of who does the tasks of these top 5 now, and begin to identify who are the specialists you already have in each of these areas. It’s important to identify early if you will have senior leadership hiring needs, or if you already have the employees in place to fill each of these roles. You may have an employee who is essentially performing the tasks of your COO. If so, great! Begin giving up some reins and change their title.  

If you already have over 10 to 20 employees and some senior management professionals in place, instead identify who you already have in each of these roles.  Do you have any holes or gaps? Any real overlap? This will help you identify your hiring needs in the next 12 to 24 months and where you may have redundancy in your personnel.

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Historically, 20% of the companies that make the Inc. 500 list crash and burn within two years of making the list. What should they have known? What should they have done or done differently?

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