Stories of stepping back: Mon Purse’s Lana Hopkins and Broadband Solutions co-founder Sam Bashiry on leaving chief executive life

Mon Purse founder Lana Hopkins is bursting with excitement for a new, top secret venture: but for now, she’s 100% focused on preparing to leave her chief executive position at her fashion brand, explaining that stepping back from a business you started requires care and planning.

Hopkins built the multimillion-dollar personalised leather goods brand from the ground up with co-founder Andrew Shub, but this year she’s decided to switch things up and step down from the day-to-day operations of the company.

She will remain on the board and continue to hold a substantial shareholding in the business.

Hopkins says she’s feeling “just happiness, excitement and confidence” at the idea of what’s next, but she has taken extreme care in planning her next move.

“You have to be responsible in transition,” she tells SmartCompany.

She’s been working on a new idea, which cannot yet be revealed, since last year. Reflecting on the decision, Hopkins says founders need to ask themselves serious questions about their future plans when deciding their own ongoing roles within their businesses.

I think what it comes down to is you have to think about how serious you are about the next venture. If it’s just a passion project, it might be better to stay on,” she says. 

However, if you have a brand new idea that calls on you to give your vision and skills to it completely, it might be time to put the wheels in motion and prepare your team for when you step back.

I’m incredibly passionate about the [Mon Purse] business, and we did so much with it. I think I came to a point where I said, ‘Okay, I want to explore this new venture’,” she says.  

The Mon Purse business now has “an incredible new chairman on board” in Toni Fourie and its team is prepared to take the brand to the next level, Hopkins says.

Hopkins discussed her decision with staff in “a bit of a fireside chat”, saying it’s important to plan these decisions well and with staff in mind.

“This has given them time to transition. It’s about giving people comfort — including the fact that I’m still on the board,” she says.

‘Concentrate on what you’re good at’

There are a range of reasons founders might step back from the chief executive hot seat, whether it’s to focus on something new or change their approach within the business.

For example, two weeks ago Sam Bashiry, co-founder of previous Smart50 finalist Broadband Solutions, announced he was stepping down from the top job to focus on “markets and strategic direction” of the company.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Bashiry says the process of finding a new chief executive has taken 12 months, but that time investment is worth it because the best decision for the business was to change his role to focus on bigger picture strategy.

For me, it’s always been about me concentrating on what I’m good at,” he says. 

“This will allow me to concentrate on what I really enjoy, which is innovation and technology and seeing what those next big things are in the future.” 

He advises other business owners to take their time to recognise that they might need to bring new talent on board, then step back and reflect on “what you really want to achieve”.

Business coach Rob Nankervis tells SmartCompany that whatever reason a founder might decide to change their roles or scale back involvement in their companies, the most important thing is that they are honest with themselves.

“For people to work out whether they’re the right person [for the job], it’s the sense of saying, ‘do I have the capability, and do I have the desire?'” he says. 

Two questions founders should ask

Exiting a business or changing your role within it takes time, so entrepreneurs should check in with themselves and acknowledge the intersection between what’s in the best interests of a business and what’s best for them personally.

“Ask, ‘is this something I really want to do?'” Nankervis suggests.

I think about this in terms of finding a bit of a sweet spot: ‘How do I merge the things I love and the things the business needs?'”

As a business changes, it could be the case that a leader feels their skills are not best suited to a role going forward. However, it’s always important to ask yourself whether you can find help fill the gaps, Nankervis says.

If it’s a capability gap, ask, ‘is this something I want to learn?’ A lot of things are actually learnable,” he says.  

For many entrepreneurs, however, there are always new ideas in the pipeline, says Nankervis. Many founders see “butterflies out the window” and should check in with themselves in order to plan a smooth transition if they do decide to step back.

It’s kind of in the DNA of these creative entrepreneurs to have those [ideas],” he says. 

It’s not trivial. It’s a case of saying: ‘what does the business need, what do I need personally, and where do those things intersect?'” 

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