Fresh Technologies’ Matt Bodnar. Picture:
Fresh Technologies’ Matt Bodnar. Picture:

Why this CEO sacked himself

THE best choice Matt Bodnar made as CEO was sacking himself.

As a CEO at the age of 25, Mr Bodnar was living the dream - but after a few years, he realised it was "not all it's cracked up to be".

Speaking to Entrepreneur magazine's Problem Solvers podcast, he explained how he joined failing tech company Fresh Technologies and saved it from disaster.

"It was super sexy and exciting to be a young CEO and to feel like, wow, I'm the master of my destiny and I'm running this company and I've got these crisp, new business cards that say 'CEO' on them," he said.

Mr Bodnar worked at investment bank Goldman Sachs after university but soon joined the family company, restaurant group Fresh Hospitality. One of the its brands, point-of-sale terminal developer Fresh Technologies, was struggling.

He was installed as chief financial officer of the company tasked with turning it around, but after about a year with the business still not firing, he took over as chief executive.

"It was losing a bunch of money, actually the day I took over as CEO we didn't have enough cash to make payroll," he said.

"It started out well. My initial task was to clean up the company and get it organised. I spent several years getting the financial end of the business squared away, figuring out what are the right business lines we need to be in, what are the profitable things we're doing, what are the unprofitable things we're doing, putting in the right systems and processes to help get the business out of danger."

But while he rescued the company from collapse, he couldn't figure out the next step. "The company wasn't growing the way I wanted it to," he said.

"We had branched into a couple other business lines, we were basically just experimenting with different businesses. We tried some stuff in IT services, we developed some of our own software solutions for the restaurant space.

"But we were sort of stagnating, the business wasn't growing to the next level the way that I wanted it to grow. It had reached a great stable balance point, but as the now maybe 27- or 28-year-old CEO of this company, I wanted it to be a fast-growing, high-flying business, and the reality is it wasn't getting there."

Mr Bodnar said he started getting "frustrated even with being CEO".

"It was so cool to be this young CEO, and I started to realise it's not all it's cracked up to be and maybe it's not even the right skillset for me, and maybe I'm not even that good at it," he said.

"I think it took a lot of soul searching. You have this image of yourself as somebody who can create massive impact and make all these things happen, and when that's not happening you really have to sit down and take a look internally and figure out, is it something I'm doing? Is it something wrong structurally with the business?"

The idea to step aside came while having coffee with a friend, also a tech CEO, who was complaining about problems at his own company. "Almost on a whim I just threw out, 'What if you just took my job?'," he said.

"We got together the following week. I brought everything about the business, the P&Ls, the business plans, the strategies, and I just walked him through. We started diving into it.

"We put a plan together and eventually brought him on board as CEO, replaced me as CEO, and I moved to a kind of chairman of the board role which I think is much more suited to my strengths and abilities."

Mr Bodnar said it was "kind of a transformational moment that shifted fundamentally the way I think about pursuing opportunities". He said his "rule of thumb" now was to "always replace myself".

"In a weird way it's actually made me way more effective and efficient than I used to be," he said. "My constant focus is, how can I replace myself with somebody who's smarter and can do a better job than me?"

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