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The Strategy Room

One Big Step to the Side

By: Peter V. Stanton

Peter Stanton CEO

Stanton Communications made a singular change this month, one that is unprecedented in our quarter century history. We replaced our president — me.

While changes in executive ranks occur with great frequency in major corporations, the opposite is true in smaller businesses where founders tenaciously hang on. Noam Wasserman of Harvard Business School writes that founders tend to feel only they can lead their companies to success. After all, they created the business. That must mean they are uniquely endowed with the vision and genius to run it.

Only in a narrow and limiting sense can that be correct. Wasserman concedes the founder must have an idea of what the business is to become and how it should operate. He or she must establish an ethic and culture. My colleagues in this firm often chide their peers for failing to adhere to “The Stanton Way.” I never defined or delineated any such thing, but perhaps I provided an example of what I believed was the correct approach for our company and its professionals. I want to believe that contributes to our success. To be sure, it is not the only factor.

Culture alone cannot sustain a company and ensure its growth and progress. Ideas, energy, commitment and a genuine command of the craft are the true determinants of success in a firm such as ours. These traits always are in full evidence here and not because only the founder embodies them. Every professional who works in our firm applies their individual talents in service to clients. In return, every professional deserves the opportunity to advance, further develop their capabilities, and be recognized for their contributions and achievements.

In a small organization with the founder parked indefinitely at the top, ambitions have the potential to become stifled. A feeling of inertia can set in whereby those who have done the most and made the greatest contributions come to think they can go no further in the organization. If the best people believe their opportunities lie elsewhere, the enterprise stagnates or, worse, ultimately fails.

In vacating the top job, I want to believe we have opened a window in our organization letting in the fresh air of new ideas and new opportunities. Professionals at all levels might now see even greater potential for advancement and, ideally, feel a revitalized determination to reach new heights. It is exciting to think that a sense of enthusiasm borne of opportunity can accelerate a 25-year-old company’s transition into its next quarter century.

More than enthusiasm, this transition recognizes that our new president and the team she has assembled around her embody talents that fit the moment. They have a keen command of new methods of communication, emerging channels for the delivery of information and alternative means for generating interest and impact. My ability to write and communicate in traditional ways remains important. Their ability to convert written words into imagery, utilize innovative technologies, and apply winning concepts is essential.

I look forward to continuing my role as mentor and practitioner. With this change, I believe I am positioned to do even more as a contributor. Our new president and her team, however, will be the leaders who take the company in a direction that ensures continued success. Their vision and genius, not the founder’s, will propel the firm and sustain our capacity to compete and thrive.

A few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI made the stunning announcement that he would step aside. That action led to the elevation of Pope Francis. The excitement that resulted remains a global phenomenon hugely beneficial to the Catholic Church. I, sir, am no Benedict, and Stanton Communications is not the Catholic Church though we are supporting the planning for Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the United States. Regardless, we too are experiencing excitement within our ranks resulting from our own change. It benefits every member of the firm and every client we serve. And for the founder taking one big step to the side, it provides the benefit of enabling me to once again focus on the practice of professional communication rather than on the operation of a business. For me that produces its own excitement and, truly, a new opportunity.

Someone once said, “Successful people keep moving.” I believe the same is true for successful companies. Stanton Communications is taking action in a way we have not in the past. Yet our record of success will surely continue and grow as a result of our willingness to move and create opportunity for everyone in our firm…even the founder.

Congratulations to Lori Russo on her promotion to president and to the entire Stanton team poised for further growth and opportunity.




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