How do I get an older boss to accept my ideas?

Oct. 1, 1999
How do I get an older boss to accept my ideas?
1304qa Chang New

Q: I was recently hired by the president of a private manufacturing company to build an R&D organization. Both the president and I are frustrated by his father, who has no engineering degree but who founded and built the company. He dismisses my ideas because he has no use for Ph.D.s. How should I handle this situation?

A: You must first build trust and gain this person's confidence. Also avoid getting into family politics, which can be very complicated and convoluted. Rather than taking sides, find an effective way to communicate with the old man. Understand his objections and then explain your concepts in a language that he can understand. There is also an outside chance that he's right that the ideas really won't work; he may have a fantastic intuition for what he is familiar with, even though he may not be able to verbalize it in technical terms.

I can picture the two of you developing a wonderful working relationship if you can add your technical foundation to what he already knows. Let him explain to you what he does, and then explain back to him the "physics" behind why it works. Pretty soon you'll have a common language and mutual respect. You can then also draw analogies to what he does in explaining your new ideas. As far as the family relationship goes, when the chips are down, blood is thicker than water. Sticking to the facts and taking a position based on your convictions is the smart way to go; you don't want to be the sacrificial lamb if it blows up.

Q: The company uses a patent attorney who is a longtime friend of the founder. How can I convince the management that he should be fired?

A: Judgment can be tainted by relationships, so it may take some effort to help those involved see the objective truth. It may be wise to cover yourself by having another lawyer write a disclosure of the same invention and explain your views by comparing their work.

Q: What is the optimum size for a company to go public with an IPO?

A: Timing an IPO (initial public offering) is more art than science. Market conditions are often the overriding factor. Not too long ago, a company could plan on going public when it reached $25 million to $50 million in sales and had several quarters of profitability under its belt. These days, a successful IPO depends more on the growth potential of the business or, because companies do not make outright projections, on the growth potential of the company's business sector. It is common to see companies going public without any hope of profitability in the short term. In some sense the market is adopting the perspective of venture capitalists, who are more willing to bet on the future of a company. That's good, if you are on the right side of the street. From the company's standpoint, irrespective of stock market fads, it is important to have continuing growth and a stream of good news after the IPO.

Given the fact that there is nothing Wall Street hates more than surprises, company must have the ability to predict sales and profitability in order to work effectively with Wall Street financial analysts. There is nothing worse than for a company to lose favor, because it is then very difficult to get analysts' attention. A pragmatic answer to your question is that it is time to go public when you can find a reputable banker to take you public. They'll give you good advice once they understand your circumstances.

Q: How do I evaluate the potential worth of stock options I'm being offered by an Internet company?

A: Timing is important here because stock options are generally vested over four to five years. So you have to guesstimate what the stock market is likely to do during this period. I am assuming the company is still privately held, because you don't want to miss the significant jump in stock valuation that always occurs going from a private to a public company. The real value of a company depends on the competitive advantages in its business. Then there is also the market cap a fickle Wall Street puts on the company. Because your shares are earned over time--and most of us are not speculators--focus more on the real value of the business than on the current Internet "bubble."

My own view is that the Internet will create a number of hugely successful companies that are early in the game and have unique competitive advantages in providing new products and services. And there will be many more companies doing more or less the same thing and stagnating, like mom-and-pop shops. The Internet, for sure, offers incredible opportunities for technical people to create that differentiation. Have fun!

About the Author

Milton Chang

MILTON CHANG of Incubic Management was president of Newport and New Focus. He is currently director of mBio Diagnostics and Aurrion; a trustee of Caltech; a member of the SEC Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies; and serves on advisory boards and mentors entrepreneurs. Chang is a Fellow of IEEE, OSA, and LIA. Direct your business, management, and career questions to him at [email protected], and check out his book Toward Entrepreneurship at

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