Editor’s note: Niall founder Michael Wilson recently hired a CEO to run the growing luxury watch company he founded five years ago. Here’s more on his thought process.
I started Niall as a far-fetched idea five years ago while at 1810 Cherry St. in the Crossroads Arts District.
Since then, I’ve faced a lot of adversity in growing this company: competitors, rejection, skepticism, etc.
But over the past five years, I’ve grown both as a person and as a business owner by learning from the adversity and morphing myself and business accordingly. That’s inherently the point of view of many entrepreneurs I know — self-improvement is a daily habit and belief you can morph to any outside force.
Since September of 2016, Niall had gone from two employees to 12 employees and grew by 400 percent in revenue. This growth stage of the company was completely new and something I never experienced before.
Niall became a “real” company right before my eyes. Within months, we had all these tangible things: professional investors, salaries and benefits, a supply chain needing management, hundreds of customers and a retail store in the Country Club Plaza to manage.
When you grow that fast, in that short of a timeframe, you ask yourself very quickly — what am I the best at? Where do I lack experience? What are my risks right now? What am I supposed to focus on today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next quarter, next year? For me, I quickly recognized I was in new territory that I had never seen before.
I spent a great deal of time wondering what was the best for Niall. Quite frankly my ambitions are not about what’s the best for me, but what’s the best for this company I so deeply believe in. I thought about it long and hard and realized something important: My skill set thrives in creative, engineering, solving problems and designing.
While I had confidence I could learn almost anything needed at Niall, I had to ask the question — could I be the best at it? That’s when I realized I needed to find someone who shared my passion for the future of this company and be a CEO. To find someone to run and operate at a level that may take me decades to acquire on my own.
Bringing on Mark Mazzaresse as our CEO was game changing. Beyond bringing decades of experience that impacted the business in a positive fashion, he brought this company something personally rewarding: The freedom to focus on the things I love and the areas in which I thrive: product design, engineering and inventing the new.
While it was the right choice — it was hard to make. When something is your domain for five years, it’s natural to think you know it all and no one else would ever know as much about running your company as you do. However, I would contend some of the most powerful moments an entrepreneur can have are when they embrace dialectic thinking. The philosophy of understanding and evaluating multiple points of view and making well-informed decisions accordingly. In Socrates point of view, it was a process that assisted in finding the truth.
I say this for a couple of reasons. When I shifted my mindset into the idea that someone else might have more information or experience than me, it left me open to new opportunities. When I shifted my mindset from polarizing to inquisitive, I found myself making more informed and logical decisions.
Ultimately, when I conditioned myself to question everything, including my own point of views and habits, I learned that someone like Mark could be better suited as the CEO than myself. Thinking this way really made me ask myself on hundreds of occasions “What’s best for Niall?”
After I understood more about my own management style, my own strengths, where I work well with people, I began discussing with our board the need for a growth-stage CEO. The process to find a new CEO was an open time frame and our board gave me the room and freedom to explore.
I met with dozens of ex-CEOs from some of the biggest watchmakers in the world. Unfortunately, they were all missing one major thing: The belief in our manufacturing model. I can’t tell you how many times a big name CEO came in, looked at our business and said “Well, if I was CEO the first thing I would do is move manufacturing to Hong Kong. If we did, we’d save X-amount of dollars and could spend more on marketing and distribution.”
This point of view was a deal breaker for me. I started this company five years ago on the deep belief in just-in-time American manufacturing. Niall is an American watchmaker — not a shell of a brand. Hearing the “HKO” or “Hong Kong Option” so many times reinforced our point of view. We have never and will never outsource our manufacturing to Asia.
Then, out of chance, I met Mark Mazzarese. We hit it off and chatted as acquaintances. After several months, the conversation came up about what Niall could become if we worked together. It was an interesting thought. Something worth exploring. What ultimately attracted me to Mark as the top contender to run Niall was his deep belief in American manufacturing and in Kansas City.
He told me, “Mike, do what you’re doing — but more of it.” That was reassuring. He had a huge respect for the brand, for me as a person and was emotionally intelligent enough to see where I would be sensitive and where I needed the help. His ability to read and react with intelligence made him a perfect fit for Niall.
Bringing in an outside CEO, however, is not a snap decision. It took us ten months and lots of sleepless nights.
Nor is it a decision to make just because you like someone. I see so many entrepreneurs go into business with people because they “really like the guy.” When you’ve built a company from nothing to 12 employees and can taste the next stage of your dreams, you have to quickly shift your mindset into a company focused approach.
Are you the right person to take this company to the new frontier? Are you going to enjoy doing that role? What are you confidently the best at? Where are you the weakest? You have to ask yourself a lot of questions and be real where the company needs the expertise. It may not be a CEO. It could be a CFO or a CMO or a VP of operations. It’s all about getting real and focusing on building a great company.
You also have to consider some of the greatest entrepreneurs of our time are not the CEOs of their respective companies. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates and more. If you look at all of the people on that list, they have one major thing in common. A passion for the product and a relentless thirst to invent.
I’m excited to watch the impact of Mark’s knowledge on our core business. I’m excited to see our team’s hard work come to life. I’m excited, personally, to have the opportunity to double down on engineering and product, to lead the development of new designs and new processes, and to increase our speed to market.
But most of all, I’m excited to showcase to the world what is possible in America — and what’s possible only in Kansas City.