Firing the Boss

How Zycron CEO Darrell S. Freeman grew his company by replacing himself

Becoming a Co-pilot
In early 2007, Freeman recruited Smith, who started in IT back in the ’80s. He also had a track record for revenue generation, having helped grow a prior company from $2 million to $150 million in annual revenues during his more than 14-year tenure. Nearly one-third of that growth came by way of acquisitions. “A lot of times the reason a guy can’t let the reins go is ego—if you’ve built it you believe no one can run it like you can,” says Smith. “But Darrell didn’t say that. He called me and said ‘I don’t think I can take this thing anymore by myself.  I can’t propel it the way it needs to be propelled.’”

Smith hit the ground running. “The elements of success were already here, but I knew we needed a management structure. Darrell didn’t have anyone else in an appointed senior leadership position,” recalls Smith. So he and Freeman filled several positions, either internally or otherwise, including a chief operating officer, an executive vice president of sales, and a director of IT governance. Then Smith oversaw the acquisition and installation of an internal software system that tracks performance and discerns trends. “We’re now seeing things we didn’t understand before—things we’re doing right and things we’re not doing right.”

Once the management team and internal systems were set up, Smith began to create a culture of discipline and accountability. “We judge ourselves internally as if we were publicly traded,” he says. “We don’t answer to Wall Street, but we answer to each other. For instance, how does Q2 of 2011 compare with Q2 of 2010? What trends have affected us? We have a very strict budgeting process.” With those measures in place, the company has experienced steady growth and now has its sights set on other regions—domestically and internationally.

According to Smith, the company recently launched Zycron Latin America and is in final talks with a new South America-based partner, Productura de Software Latin America (PSL), a renowned software provider. The team sees potential future growth in other regions as an avenue to reaching Freeman’s stated goal of taking the company to the $100 million level. “We plan to do most of our growth organically. We don’t mind growing at 10%, 15%, 20% a year,” says Freeman, 46. “I’ve seen companies come and grow, and go out of business. In some cases, the growth is what killed them. We want to make sure that we grow at a rate that we can digest.”

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