Why our founder handed over the reins of Secret Source

18th October 2022

An Interview with Richard 10 months on from stepping down as CEO

In January 2022 our founder, Richard, handed over the day to day running of Secret Source and the role of CEO to Rachel. Ten months on, we’ve had a long chat with Richard to find out more about what made him decide to hand  over the reins and how he feels about taking a back seat in the company he created.

You can read the transcript of the video below.

My first question is why? Why did you want to step down from CEO – isn’t that the dream?

“It all came from one throwaway comment from my daughter. One evening in June 2021 my eldest daughter Elena came home from school and announced “did you know I’ve only got four more summers with you?” And then she left the room, totally unaware of what she’d just done.”

“At that very moment, I felt she’d knocked all the wind out of me. I obviously knew she’d been getting older, but I just hadn’t appreciated my time with my kids was running out.”

“Since my daughters were babies my wife and I had always planned to take a year out and travel with them. Then …  life happened and we never got around to it. So, when my daughter told me we only had a few more summers together, I had a sudden realisation of how short life is and how little time I had with my kids and if I didn’t do something at that moment, I’d miss all that time together and would never be able to get it back. So I made a decision there and then that, from that moment on, summers were for my girls, we were going to travel and see the world while they still wanted to hang out with their Dad.”

Richard enjoying his first trip with his family in Costa Rica
Richard enjoying his first trip with his family in Costa Rica

So, what happened next. How did deciding you wanted to have a long summer holiday turn into you stepping down as CEO?

“My initial thought was someone else would run the company in July and August. I’d do a handover before I went and then take over once I got back. But once we started planning it we realised it just wouldn’t work. I couldn’t expect someone to have to make decisions over the summer that they wouldn’t have any control over when I came back and vice versa, it wouldn’t be fair for me to make decisions that someone else would have to run with even if they disagreed with them. Also, 2 months is a long time for me not to be available – the rest of the team would have had to know everything in my head which just wasn’t feasible. So we had to find a more permanent solution … and in September last year we decided that Rachel, who was COO at the time, would take over the CEO role permanently and I would move away from all day to day activities all year round.” 

How did that make you feel?

“Excited, nervous … every emotion really.” 

“I’d built Secret Source following my vision, my values, so while I was excited to have more time off and more time with my kids, I was a little worried that the new team wouldn’t stick to my values, or at least not do things the way I would have done them.” 

“I’m going to be honest, at the start I didn’t like being on the sidelines, I didn’t like not having the final say. I really struggled. Yes, I loved not having to worry about things, I loved the freedom it gave me, but it took me a long time to accept I wasn’t the boss any more”.

So, when did you finally accept it? When did you really feel you’d moved away?

“I don’t think I’ll ever fully step away, I built the company from zero with Ted and I know all our clients and all our team, and I know it’s a bit of a cliche but they feel like family to me, I still feel responsible.”

“However, even though I’ll probably never fully let go, I do now feel I’m not needed anymore. In a good way. Not that I’m surplus to requirements but I now feel the company can now run by itself, in the way I’d always wanted it to.  I remember sitting in on a management meeting in June this year. I didn’t contribute, I just listened. It was amazing. For the first time ever I saw that all the team had my vision, they talked about what we had to do to improve happiness in the company, they discussed how to make our clients happier, they talked about psychological safety, ownership and diversity and I knew at that point my company was in safe hands, hands that would not only look after the comp any in the way that I would but would nurture it and help it grow the way I’d always envisioned.”

So what are your plans now? What are you going to do with your life?

“We’ve created something really special at Secret Source, we have the most amazing team, it really does feel like a family. By building Secret Source and our unique, special culture I’ve learnt a huge amount about psychological safety, how to build a culture of ownership and how to make happiness the centre of the workplace. I’ve learnt how to build a happy company. So, I want to share what I’ve learnt, share my experiences. I want to help companies really understand why happiness is important and show them not only how to build a culture with happiness at its centre but to make happiness or whatever value is important to them the driving force of the company. Secret Source started off like most companies with the objective of making money but it was only when we changed that objective to making people happy that we really blossomed. So, that’s what I want to do. I want to talk, I want to write. I  want to share what we’ve learnt. I want to spread the word that being values led, so not profit or revenue led, but being truly led by your values really does work.”

“So, even though I won’t be involved in Secret Source every day I want to help bring the essence of what makes Secret Source so special to the rest of the world.”

If you’re interested in how we’ve built our happiness first culture and how we’re continually challenging ourselves to make the happiest company please follow us on LinkedIn to get our regular blog updates.