Susan Stern survived cancer with the help of modern medicine and more than two years' rest from the helm of the public relations firm she founded 13 years ago. But medical science couldn't sustain her Cranford, New Jersey, company, Stern + Associates, while she was recuperating. And her clients certainly couldn't put their public relations plans on hold.
Stern's solution was to allow a "clone" of herself to run the company. A longtime employee, Carol Rickner, essentially took over Stern's position while she recovered. "I'd stop in now and then, and we'd meet every week and phone each other as needed," says Stern, who returned to work last year. "But basically, Carol was running the company."
In the scientific community, controversy still surrounds the morality and the feasibility of cloning human beings. But many entrepreneurs have been cloning in a business sense for years--recruiting and grooming people to assume their posts atop the companies they founded and grew.
Even entrepreneurs who can't tell a petri dish from a Bunsen burner are likely to find themselves confronting the issue of whether, when and how to send in the clones, says Sandy Weinberg, a professor of entrepreneurship at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They may refer to this process as grooming a successor, mentoring or simply delegating authority. But for all kinds of critical issues, from managing growth to harvesting the most sales from a slow-moving product line, cloning is at least a potential part of the solution.