Evolution of the Founder

Paul Waite

Paul Waite, chief executive of Rowan, lead partner for our Rainmaker conference on 20 March 2024, on navigating the journey to CEO in a newly Private Equity backed business

The journey from Founder to chief executive (CEO) can be somewhat of a transformation, and when a business secures private equity investment, this evolution can not only take on a new level of complexity, but can also be somewhat of an emotional ride. As a Founder, I found that my role was as the visionary, the driving force. I created the strategy that propelled my business along its early stages of growth, and throughout that time everything rested on me. I have found that the key shift from Founder to CEO was recognising the need to bring in people around me, and being prepared to relinquish control. Recognising the need to bring in key individuals with the skills and experience to complement my own, was the tipping point to ensuring the business was ready to scale further. 

Here I share insights from my own journey, as I transitioned from Founder to CEO, enhanced by having spent the last 12 years at Rowan advising Founders, appointing Boards and building Senior Leadership Teams.

  • Managing Director: From an early role as MD at 3i backed Robinson Keane, I gained invaluable experience in the world of PE and successfully delivered 28% IRR. 
  • Founder: With minority funding from Mercia, I founded Rowan, scaled the business and generated a c.3x return. Leading to our acquisition by The LCap Group.
  • CEO: As CEO of Rowan, now part of The LCap Group – who recently gained investment from Three Hills Capital Partners, I apply the experience I have gained to help drive Rowan’s continued success.  

Letting go of the Vine: As a founder, your entrepreneurial spirit has been the catalyst behind your business growth. With PE backing, your role will shift from sole visionary and decision maker to strategic leader, and delegator. For me, the ability to move on from how things had been done previously, to how best to do them with an investor alongside me, has played a pivotal role in the successful growth of Rowan. I often reference the Gino Wickman  book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, in which he refers to this process as “letting go of the vine.” 

Brining in investment often necessitates scaling operations and optimising efficiency. To succeed in this, you will need to assemble a formidable senior leadership team capable of executing your company’s strategy. As a strong leader you will need to empower the senior leadership by delegating responsibilities and encouraging innovation and collaboration across finance, sales, technology and operations.

Data-Driven Decision Making: Whilst I always recommend maintaining awareness of your gut instincts, it is vital that you don’t allow your emotions to drive key decisions. As a CEO of a PE-backed venture your investors will insist you take a more data-driven approach. 

This is where your senior leadership team come into their own, bringing both situational experience and a well-honed gut instinct. Robust analytics and reporting systems will provide actionable insights, guide strategic decisions, and demonstrate to your PE partners that the business is built on a solid foundation of informed choices. Your senior leadership team will offer you the support and guidance you need to feel comfortable with the decisions you, and they, need to make to continue to drive the desired growth.

Remember it is not just about the PE partner for today but looking towards the future investor or acquirer. 

Stakeholder Communication: As your business takes on PE investment the number of stakeholders with which you need to communicate will increase. Stepping into the CEO role, with the support of your CFO, you will need to make the shift towards more structured and objective communication.

In my experience, regularly engaging with investors and board members, providing clear and concise updates on the evolving strategy and the logic underpinning key decisions, has been crucial in learning to detach personal emotions from key business decisions. Seeing my original vision and goal for Rowan being retained has reassured me that we have the right investment partners alongside us to steer the company towards continued success.

Focus on Value Creation: PE investors are driven by returns on investment, and as a founder transitioning to CEO you should be too. With your leadership team and the support of key stakeholders, you should continually be looking to identify areas where the business can generate additional value, whether through new markets, product innovation, digitisation, sales transformation, or operational efficiency. 

My experience of working with investors has taught me that when developing your value creation plan, it is vital to consider how to positively affect your multiple, alongside your profit, as a key driver of enterprise value. Demonstrating your commitment and focus on enhancing the value of the business, is a great way to reinforce your position as part of the leadership team in the eyes of investors. 

Mentorship and Succession Planning: Looking back over my career there have been individuals along the way that played a vital role in supporting me, in helping me shape not only my business but, more importantly, my style of leadership. Developing a culture of mentorship within your leadership team is something I feel incredibly strongly about. Identifying and nurturing emerging talents and preparing them for future leadership roles ensures that succession planning does not stick at the C-suite. And it ensures that you retain the true culture of your business as it continues to scale. I believe it is vital to ensure key individuals throughout the business feel supported, and challenged, and are right for the growth journey now, and in the future.

In summary, whilst the shift from founder to CEO can be an emotional journey, challenging you to let go of control; I would encourage you to see it as an opportunity to continue your own professional development. Leveraging your experience and insights to assemble a leadership team with the skills to complement your own should ensure that you continue to deliver optimal growth and achieve everything, and more, than you originally intended.


Rowan is the headline partner of TheBusinessDesk.com’s Rainmakers Conference in Manchester on March 20.

The Rainmakers Conference 2024 is designed to place the financiers and advisers of the North at the heart of the movement for economic renewal.

TheBusinessDesk.com and our partners in the event believe passionately that the jobs created, specialisms developed, and the entrepreneurs unleashed give the Rainmakers community the right to a seat at the table and a voice in the debate.

The conference will be an opportunity to not only celebrate the contribution from funds raised and deals created, but also to look to the future at the challenges ahead.

Forged with partners from private equity in the North, and backed by elite teams of advisory businesses, the event will bring together funders, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to focus on opportunities and challenges of building a dynamic and competitive economy in the North.

Find out more and book your tickets at www.rainmakersconference.co.uk.