Carbon Copy

Calculated Risk

Any number of scientific journals have dealt with the costs and potential problems in terms of confusion, control and responsibility that might arise from cloning. And many of the same controversies apply to entrepreneurial cloning.

When it comes down to it, the most likely problem is that the entrepreneur will be unwilling to let the clone do the job for which he or she was groomed. "It's easier to find these people than it is to delegate to them," says Weinberg.

Many entrepreneurs don't recognize that someone other than themselves is capable of making good decisions, says Richard Hayman, president of Hayman Systems, a 91-employee point-of-sale and computer company in Laurel, Maryland. He experienced that scenario firsthand 16 years ago after taking the reins of the company his father founded.

"My dad was a typical entrepreneur, a jack-of-all-trades," says Hayman. "He was a one-man show who could do anything. His greatest criticism of me was that I could only do one thing at a time." Because of that, his dad refused to delegate to him.

Entrepreneurs willing to give up control may find the costs of recruiting a clone are steep. After Joe Kraus and the five other co-founders of Excite Inc. decided a few years ago they needed a clone of their collective ability to take their Internet search-engine provider into the big time, the Redwood City, California-based, start-up quickly spent $100,000 on executive search fees.

And the cash outlay wasn't the worst part, Kraus says. The search also ate up six to nine months of the founders' time. "We probably interviewed 20-plus people, and that was after the recruiting firm had gone through them," says Kraus. The results were good, however: They found a president and CEO in George Bell, a former senior vice president of Times/Mirror Magazines.

The least obvious risk of cloning is that the entrepreneur will succeed too well in creating an exact duplicate. Hayman notes that his father started their family business in 1938 as a purveyor of mechanical cash registers. Although the older Hayman proved flexible in piloting the firm through the era of electronics, more and different challenges lie ahead. An exact replica of the successful founder might well be a failure today, notes Hayman. "If I had done things the way [my father] did them," he says, "we would have been out of business a long time ago. Changing with the times is very important."

Perhaps it's fortunate that experts say the odds of replicating a businessperson in every way are probably even worse than the odds of cloning a human in a laboratory. "If you think the new leader will be [an exact] clone," says Karofsky, "you're setting yourself up for failure."

What can you do? Take a Dr. Frankenstein approach and assemble a virtual clone by using several people, suggests Gary Schmidt, COO of Saville & Holdsworth's Consulting West division in Chicago. It's easier and more efficient to have a group of specialists in various areas than it is to come up with a single duplicate of the jack-of-all-trades entrepreneur, he says. "You'll even need some people who are the antithesis of the entrepreneur," he adds. "They'll help challenge ideas or do things like detail work that many entrepreneurs aren't good at."

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This article was originally published in the May 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Carbon Copy.

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