How to Quit your CEO Job: 7 Easy Steps

I thought it might be funny to write my last blog as CEO and let my beloved customers, colleagues and supporters know I’m stepping down (and into the role of Non-Executive Director) by making fun of all the listicles I’ve pumped out online in the last 13 years. 

This time, I’m not just going to slip out the back door in the same manner I exit most parties at 10:30pm. I’ve been at this party for over a decade, so I should probably say goodbye. And for what it’s worth, I’m not leaving the party, I’m just retiring my dancing girl costume and sitting at the tables in the back with a glass of champagne and a bunch of spring rolls.

So if you’ve been wondering how to quit your CEOs job, particularly if you’re the CEO of a company you love, where you are a major shareholder, here are 7 easy steps:

Step 1: Do the CEO’s job for (almost) a decade

I wasn’t always the CEO of iseekplant. My colleagues and shareholders picked me for the job in 2015, 3 years after we first launched the platform and right after we took our Series A investment from Seven Group.  I assumed they picked me because I was the best at creating PowerPoint Slides, was the least scruffy and had the best gift of the gab. I was woefully unprepared and unqualified. Still am. But I learnt on the job, had a really good support team around me and mentoring from an amazing Chairman in Ian Petherbridge (mentor, friend, commercial legend and in the top 3 best blokes I know). I felt like I had gotten to some level of competence in the last couple of years. 

The CEO’s job is truly the most fascinating and interesting job you can ever do. The upsides are that people (mostly) do what you ask them to do quickly, everyone laughs at your jokes and most people are polite to your face. The downside is that the job never leaves you, you do it during every waking hour, and even in your sleep. The job unfortunately comes with an emotional weight that can feel unbearable at times.

The job is surprisingly thankless, so you have to have the hide of a rhino. You assume being a CEO comes with lots of accolades, but the best you can hope for as a CEO is silence. Silence means you’re doing your job properly because it means no one is criticizing. Thanks never come because good performance is the baseline expectation. 

You console yourself with numbers. The numbers pat you on the back and good customer feedback cuddles you late at night. These signposts reassure you that you're heading in the right direction. Upgraghs for good metrics and downgraphs for bad ones are what you live for. Your best friend is a spreadsheet.

Step 2: Hit a milestone

Constructiv Technologies, and most importantly iseekplant, has gone through a massive amount of change in the last couple of years. I was a catalyst for a lot of that change, and almost all of the change has been positive. Some of our customer-facing strategies fell flat, but a lot landed, and some landed very well. I’m really proud of how we’ve evolved into a thriving and financially sustainable technology company, with loyal and engaged customers, from a scrappy tech start up. 

The company is profitable, sustainable over the long term and growing at above average rates in all directions. Our customer service is improving, our Seekers are exploding in numbers and coming back repeatedly, and our team is growing in capability. In 2023, I felt like we had crossed some sort of threshold and I’d delivered on some of what I had promised our shareholders.

Step 3: Have some self awareness about it

As we made the transition from start up to a grown up company, I started to have some really strong, instinctual doubts that I was the right person for the job going forward.

There was a running metaphor in the office that working for me required you to walk around the office with a dustpan and brush. I would throw glitter in the air, and people would come behind me and sweep it up.  In fact, the joke took hold and in the later years I would often throw real glitter in the air during my company all hands meetings, and today that glitter can be found in fairly decent quantities all through the carpet at iseekplant’s head office. Perhaps my most enduring legacy.

The glitter metaphor was a jibe at my propensity to catalyze something high-growth and strategic, then get bored with the implementation of it. We needed to “move fast and break things”, rapidly try new tactics and models to find the right fit for the business and our customers. With some robust feedback, I would eventually grow out of that, but the metaphor stuck nonetheless. 

I was the slap-it-up-and-fix-it-later-CEO. The make-the-numbers-grow-CEO. The hit-the-metrics- CEO, the upgraphs-only-CEO, let’s-try-everything-hack-it-together-push-push-push CEO. But as our performance got more reliable, what was needed was something… steadier.

Step 4: Have someone else ready to step up

Whilst I was always the external facing CEO, the reality of leadership at our company was that my two other co-founders, Matt and brother Drew, ran it with me in a really collaborative and consultative way. We acted as a committee in making all important decisions for the business, on the ‘3 heads are better than one’ principle.

That worked for the longest time, until we hired a really capable leadership team who found having 3 bosses painful and confusing. Installing a capable Senior Leadership Team was a massive, multi-year endeavor of letting go of the reins and building operational procedures and guardrails.

Drew had led the sales team operations and revenue function of the business for years. Being a civil engineer by trade, he ran everything like a major road project, and was good at relentless driving and implementing major transformational projects that were almost universally a success.

I knew in my gut he was the right person going forward. He had the skills and patience needed for our next phase, where we would move more slowly and carefully towards well architected company and technology goals. He was also a very capable people leader, able to get out of the way of our senior leaders and empower them to call the shots. He loves our customers, and they love him.

Step 5: Have a crucible moment

In September last year, one of my best friends Lani died from breast cancer (somewhat unexpectedly) 6 weeks before a 300 person charity ball I was holding in her honour. 

I met Lani at Women’s College in my first week at UQ and we’d been the best of mates ever since. We had lived so much of our adult lives together, 25 years as friends, and 11 years as flatmates.

Lani’s death was a crucible moment for me. The moment where I took stock of what was important, and what wasn’t serving me anymore. It made me see the fragility of life, and how I had been absent or preoccupied with work for much of my kid’s childhoods. 

It helped me understand that while I love iseekplant, I love my family and myself more and I couldn’t keep contributing to the mission in the way that I was. 

Step 6: Rip the Band-Aid off

I put my thoughts on paper, and went to speak to Ian in February of 2023, to tell him that I knew I was no longer the long-term CEO of the company.

We discussed lots of different models. It was hard for all of us to wrap our heads around making this change. We chose a Co-CEO model with Drew for the interim. In hindsight, this didn’t work out as well as hoped - as all the stakeholders (the company, Drew and me) were more ready for a change than I gave them credit for. We tried that for a while, but it heightened confusion and stress for everyone. So I took some long-service leave after Lani’s death and got out of Drew’s way. He needed the space to settle in and create a new paradigm.

Drew is primed, ready and energized on his leadership journey. He stepped up and grabbed the reins and in his first 6 months in the job, the company has performed the best it ever has.

Step 7: Design Your New Dream Job

As of March 1, I’m stepping into the role of Founder and Non-Executive Director and I’m really excited about it. I’m going to continue to lead the investor relations, capital, debt and M&A work ongoing from my new Board position. 

I’m also still consulting to the company on major projects where glitter is required.

I love the company we’ve built, the customers we serve and the industry we’re trying to modernize. I feel like I can still build so much additional value from my new position, and that I will be able to sustain my contribution for much longer because of the positive changes I’ve made to my life balance.

A sanctimonious goodbye.

Wishing our Senior Leadership team - Louise, Garcon, Greg S, Greg R, Dinesh, Matt and Jake all the success and upgraphs possible.

Thanking all the people that backed me in the CEO’s job for so long - all our fabulous shareholders (too many to name), the SLT and our board of directors - Ian Peterbridge, Lauren Williams and Matt Phillips. I felt really supported by everyone, and you were a joy to work with in the CEOs capacity. Looking forward to continuing working with you in my new role. 

To my co-founders Matt and Drew - it's been so fun doing this with you for so long. So many laughs and ridiculous moments. Despite our huge challenges we’ve stayed tight and loyal, and extremely committed to our customer mission.  We’ve always put the company first, and have done things to protect our founder relationship.  Still being united is something we should be really proud of. What we’ve endured would have cracked others less resilient.

Retiring my glitter canister from here on out.

Thanks for the memories. It was a privilege and a real honour.

Sally Goodbye Blog