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Span Control

How many employees directly reporting to you is too many?

This story appears in the January 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Pat Harpell had 18 people reporting directly to her. She was working that many hours and more some days, but she eventually realized that to grow and develop her business, she'd have to reduce the number of people she had direct control over. Harpell, 46, began hiring middle managers for Harpell Inc., a transactive marketing services company she founded in 1982 in Maynard, Massachusetts, and assigning them daily oversight of the growing number of employees.

"I realized I was the bottleneck," Harpell says. "But by limiting the number of people reporting to me, I was able to look beyond day to day and focus on building a unique brand and position for the company." Three years later, Harpell has 60 employees. The number of people reporting directly to her, however, is only six, and they're all department managers. "My biggest value to the company," Harpell explains, "was to work on it, not in it day to day."

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