The time I replaced myself as CEO

As a fast-growth business and a five-times best employer charging ahead on our journey to deliver more good times, recruiting the right people is a key focus of my business.

As the founding director and the entrepreneur who started RedBalloon and grew it to a significant sized business, the hardest hire ever was the person I had to recruit to replace myself – and knowing when the right time to do that was.

In the early days I was very much involved with every recruitment decision. In our sixth year, it was brought to my attention by our then marketing manager that this was not necessarily a good thing. I had to get out of my own way for the sake of the business.

It takes a lot to look in the mirror and say: “I am no longer the best person to run the recruiting process.” Quite frankly, as an enthusiastic (understatement) entrepreneur, I was too busy talking and selling the virtues of RedBalloon to ask the hard questions and listen to the candidates for the right answers. It was time to bring in a professional. The most strategic hire I ever made was a HR professional – known to RedBalloon as our Head of Employee Experience – to own our recruitment strategy and process. And one thing I am immensely proud of is that in 2011 she was named the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) HR Practitioner of the Year.

The thing I did learn about hiring along the way is that it is a two-way street. The recruitment process is just as much about the candidate getting to know RedBalloon as it is us getting to know them. Ultimately, it does need to be a perfect melding of shared values and vision for a deep connected relationship to be created.

I had a long corporate career before starting RedBalloon – and if there is one thing that I learnt it is that we are only ever custodians of a brand. In fact our job is to nurture and grow the business – success cannot be dependent on any one person or personality. Especially not the founder.

RedBalloon at its core wants a team of people who know what they stand for. RedBalloon CEO Kristie Buchanan had a big career in fast-moving consumer goods before joining us. This all changed when her identical twin sister had a medical diagnosis. It made her wonder: “Where am I spending my life?” She began to take control of her destiny; she wanted to deeply believe in what she was doing, to use her talents for good and to make the world a better place.

The below diagram is her musings as she set out to answer the question: “Who do I want to work for?”

Kristie joined RedBalloon close to six years ago as a marketing manager – she was formerly appointed as CEO at the beginning of this year and now reports directly to the chairman, Richard England. The hardest hire is the one that replaces you. People wonder how I achieved this and it simply comes down to one word – trust.

I can deeply and without question trust Kristie, because at the very core of our relationship is a shared vision – a deep commitment to living our values and driving forward our happiness revolution. We are completely aligned. We are on a journey together, we understand each other and we believe in each other. It took time, but this transition to replace myself has not been tough at all.

Naomi Simson has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded,, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.


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