Dennis M. Lynch is the founder of TechSmart.com, an Edgewood, New York, business-to-business auction site that specializes in the asset recovery of pre-owned and off-lease technology.
Lynch, 31, hired Wade Clowes, 46, to be his COO, and then asked him to be the CEO four weeks later. The two men have an obvious generation gap, in both ages and experiences. As Lynch puts it: "Wade wears khaki pants and a nice, white, collared shirt--everything ironed, nicely shaven, and his hair looks great! I wear the same pair of jeans that I wore yesterday, a New York Yankees sweatshirt, sneakers--I haven't shaved for two days, and I need a haircut."
Wade is on time; Dennis isn't. ("I'll be late to my own funeral," he promises.) Wade is mature; Dennis has a "wild" streak. Wade listens to their staff; Dennis needs to learn to delegate. Wade is patient; Dennis-well, you get the idea. "But at the end of the day," concludes Lynch, "we both love margin, we both drive revenue, and we both love to work hard."
As indispensable as Clowes is, Lynch advises his peers: "Never hire an older corporate guy to start your start-up. It will never get going. You have to be the CEO and get it going. You'll know if you've been a success-your business will have grown beyond your wildest dreams."
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And when that happens? Lynch says it's important to realize when it's time to hire an older, wiser CEO. If he had hired someone his own age to be the CEO? "We would be brawling in the parking lot every day," says Lynch. "I needed maturity and experience, not another ego."
Lynch, who runs the technical side of TechSmart.com, performed ably: "I got us far, real fast," he says. "[But it's Clowes] who will use his skills and maturity to bring us to the next level. I have no experience with that. But that's OK, because when I am 40, I will know both ends of this game. I will know what I taught myself as a start-up, and I will know how to run a big ship--what I've learned from Wade."
His knees give out on him sometimes when he plays softball. He listens to older music, not "that '80s stuff." But at age 46, Wade Clowes may be the youngest guy on the block. After all, if you're in your 20s and just starting a business, how much do you really stand to lose, other than your dignity and priority-registration on that new MasterCard in the mail? However, Clowes left a top-level job at Hewlett-Packard to work at a dotcom, a hip, happening but hardly guaranteed-to-succeed way to make a living.
But just because Clowes has a sense of derring-do doesn't mean it's easy to work with a younger entrepreneur. "There are natural tensions," admits Clowes, who surmises that people like Lynch seek people like himself because "they want somebody who thinks in a processed fashion, yet somebody who moves quickly. I think if you have one or the other personality type, you're in trouble. So I would expect that the kind of interaction we have is pretty typical."
In fact, when he goes to meetings in his suit and Lynch wears jeans, the investors don't blink an eye. Says Clowes, "Dennis is the young entrepreneur. They almost expect a different, or relaxed, look. I think a lot of investors come aboard because they know that that kind of natural tension is healthy."
Lest he create a generation gap in his easily embarrassed
family, Geoff Williams wants to make clear that he didn't
really come down the stairs one Christmas Eve to find his mom
making out with Santa.
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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.