On Becoming a Manager

I made a vow when I started Scott Consulting Corp. that I would never become a manager because I don't like managers and I don't like authority. Managers conduct endless meetings only to decide they need more meetings to plan their meeting schedules. Managers use corporate words such as "empowerment," "goal setting" and, of course, "resource planning." Managers don't know how to do anything except ask the next higher manager what to do.

For the life of me, I could never figure out why any company needs armies of managers and what they all do. I figured if an entrepreneur could find a bunch of smart people and explain to them what the company does, those smart people would get the job done. Why have some manager get in the way? How does any manager add value to a computer consulting company anyway?

Some lessons are more painful than others, and this one hurts. The job is always easy when somebody else has to do it, and this was especially true of managing before I had to do it. That's right: Like it or not, I am now a manager. Scott Consulting now has 15 employees, including my wife and me, and we've come a long way since I worked in my shorts in front of an old 386 in my basement next to my table saw.

A couple of years ago, I could make major spending and strategy decisions on the spot. I made snap decisions on whom to hire, what computers to buy, who our customers were, and how much to bill them. I knew all the day-to-day details, and I had my hands on everything. It was kind of a blessing, because I knew everything that went on, so I had all the data handy to make informed decisions. It was also kind of a curse, because I took care of everything, and if I didn't do something, it didn't get done.

Life is considerably different today, because I can't possibly keep up with every detail of everything. We now have a person to answer the phones, take care of weekly invoices, and keep the office running day to day. We have a salesperson, a marketing person, two people in training, a director of appreciation (my wife), several technical consultants, and me.

Suddenly, and without much warning, I have to make decisions that effect lots of other people's economic livelihoods. Instead of spending all my time sizing computer systems, building networks and troubleshooting, now I spend lots of time planning, coordinating, selling, negotiating and trusting.

We ran into a situation recently where a customer wanted me to sign a long, complex contract with some terms I thought were restrictive. It was a big decision because the contract defined a large piece of work for us. If I gave in to the terms I thought were onerous, I could hurt our company badly and inhibit our ability to work in the future. If I stood too firm, the customer could find somebody else and we would lose the chance for a nice piece of business.

Suddenly, a skinny bald guy from Minnesota was a contract negotiator. Since I had no clue what many of the words meant, I worked with an attorney and we came up with suitable terms for everyone. Because of that experience, we now have a company attorney.

Every day presents a new challenge, and for me, it's now uncharted territory. Ready or not, I'm the leader of this growing group and our stakeholders depend on me to make the right decisions. In the last couple of months, we've made some big ones. We tripled our rent by expanding our office space, we bought a T1 connection directly to the Internet backbone in Chicago, we took on the responsibility for our own and our customers' domain name serving, we hired two new people, and we bought roughly $28,000 of prepaid training credits.

We've gone through some pain along the way too. Recently, after our company put on a successful and exhausting exhibit at a trade show, I found out that our Operations Director is leaving our company. People tell me all companies experience these growing pains, and he is leaving for a really nice opportunity. His new company might even become a customer. Still, I'm sorry to see him leave.

Despite the occasional pain, I'm really proud of our team and what we've accomplished so far. I also realize we have lots of work ahead. It's a bigger challenge than I've ever faced, and it's not technical. I only hope I'll be up to it. -- Greg Scott, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), is president of Scott Consulting Corp. (Eagan, Minn.), specializing in information technology solutions. Contact him at gregscott@scottconsulting.com.