Co-Founder, NIKA Water
Prompt 2: Wealth Creation
A common trait I’ve noticed and admired with business owners, of both large and small sized entities, is versatility. The ability to swiftly move from one industry to the next, without any formal education in the subject matter. I’ve seen this firsthand with business owners in my own family, and most recently with Lyndon Rive of SolarCity whom we met last week (jumped from Health care -> Computer Software -> Energy), and now Jeff Church of NIKA Water.
Entrepreneurs are successful in vastly diverse fields over their career because they clearly separate the notion of being a “businessman” vs. a subject matter expert. A CEO of a corporation does not necessarily need to know the technical details of how to manufacture a certain product, or how to write the software code for their tech startup, but rather needs to have the following:
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Successful CEOs clearly realize the boundaries of their role and understand they provide the most benefit by managing the corporation as a whole, not micro-managing the details. NIKA is a prime example -- it does not burden itself with actually building water wells, but rather devises a business plan to generate money and contract to third-parties all over the world to physically build the wells. Jeff Church probably doesn’t know how to build a water well, and frankly doesn’t need to.
Note that I am not arguing that subject matter experts are not successful CEOs (Google serving as a convincing counterexample), but rather that a CEO need not be a subject matter expert in a particular industry in order to be a successful leader.
Upon reading the prompt and quick blurb on Jeff Church, I wondered how much time had elapsed between his degrees and entrepreneurial endeavors and immediately had two thoughts:
Mr. Church likely had some familiarity with aspects of PE/manufacturing, at least enough to (a) aggressively market himself to potential investors and (b) feel confident he could learn whatever he lacked on his own
- OR -
Mr. Church surrounded himself with individuals who did
It would be extremely risky for any individual to start a new business in which they have zero experience and had no one on their team with any experience. After doing a few cursory internet searches on Mr. Church I learned that he spent 10+ years at ERICO as a senior executive, where he managed several manufacturing companies. Check. He also worked at Morgan Stanley in their Mechant Banking division, presumably working to create investment opportunities, deliver excellent returns on those investments, and sponsor traditional PE funds (as per the Morgan Stanley description of Merchant Banking). Check. It also seems he may have worked with Michael Stone, co-founder of NIKA, early on, who had extensive PE and manufacturing experience. Check. Mr. Church was able to tie together his varying professional experiences in creative new ways, in a true entrepreneurial spirit, and aggressively market himself when he began Autus Capital.