On demand: Moving beyond a Founder-led business, Succession, Progression and SMT Capability Development

Webinar 15 Nov 2022 panelSuccession, and evolving the role of the Founder, are key determinants of scaleup success and the value of a company.

Collingwood completed a 30-month succession plan in 2022, with Daniel Pitchford taking over as CEO from Founder Piers Bearne. 

Piers was joined in a fascinating discussion by founders, successors and acquirers who shared their stories and insight:.

Key takeaways:

Start early

Consider the time it takes for a successful transition. Put a structured process in place, get buy-in from partners / Board / investors, and do due diligence on your own business: invest in outside advice and customer insights to get an objective view of your business and products. 

Work on yourself and your personal goals

It is crucial to really understand your own personal motivations – both Founder and successor – and do the work on yourself to know what you are trying to achieve. Coaching, counseling and support, is invaluable for insights in this process. The business planning must be in place but, be prepared, and do the work on yourself as well. 

The importance of trust

Appointing the incumbent as successor is very beneficial in uncertain times. They’ve been seen in action before stepping up and there’s clear understanding, communication and trust of judgment, as well as a belief in your successor’s ability. And the organisation benefits from new energy, as well as continuity and shared values.

  • This means taking yourself as a Founder out of management team structures – resist the temptation to meddle tactically and embrace your new role as investor / subject matter expert / strategist

Develop your senior leadership team

What are the capabilities and development opportunities for your management team? Ensure diversity, and don’t look for a mirror image in your teams. Stepping into being a CEO is no small thing. Are you developing, coaching and giving the support structure? Invest time to build succession in your leadership team, implementing staged Progression Plans.

  • Think about embedding diversity, purpose and flexibility in your culture as it moves away from the direct control of the Founder

“Rockstar Founders” 

Some businesses are more independent of the founder than others. Successors don’t want to be taking over from the Mick Jagger of the industry. If you want to stay in control, don’t embark on this journey until you are ready to step off the stage and put the guitar down. 

How buyers look at succession 

Buyers want to understand who might be a ‘flight risk’ and to work with exiting Founders to support management teams through what may be a daunting time. The right buyer will want to get to know your team, and build new opportunities for growth and development. This will be tested in due diligence, as an org chart doesn’t always show the reality of who does what day to day.


Here’s the recording:

Drop Piers a line to discuss your Founder succession planning strategy.



Piers Bearne, Founder, Collingwood Advisory (Moderator)

Piers Bearne is an entrepreneur and investor who has built and sold his own media businesses, and who has worked on M&A for major buyers, both as CEO and consultant. Piers sold his first exhibition business, Rock Media, to Imago Group in 2006. As CEO of Clarion Conferences, he was involved in the sale of Clarion to VSS in 2008. More recently, he sold Tank World Expo to ArtexisEasyfairs, led the sale of TowerXchange to Euromoney and sold SmartRail World to DVV Media International.

As Chairman and shareholder with GFC Media Group, Global Transport Forum, Bio-Based World and World Retail Insights, he works on strategy, resourcing, sales maximisation and value creation in conferences, exhibitions, digital communities and intelligence reports, and co-hosts the Media Entrepreneur Meetup group.

Russell Wilcox ClarionRussell Wilcox, Executive Chairman, Clarion Events

Russell Wilcox has been the Executive Chairman of Clarion Events since September 2022.

He joined Clarion in 2008 following a buyout by Veronis Suhler Stevenson, joined the Board in 2010, and became CEO in March 2013. During his time as CEO Russell led the company’s expansion into new verticals, geographies and product sectors, and its transformation into one of the leading global players in the industry.

Russell has held a variety of senior management and board positions in the global events industry during his career. He has directly managed business in the USA, Europe, Asia, & Africa and has experience across a wide range of formats and business models.

Victoria Rennie, CEO of Stylus 

Victoria has more than 20 years’ experience in B2B media and events and has held a variety of leadership positions at Incisive Media, Terrapinn and now Stylus, where she spent four years driving growth as COO before being appointed CEO in April 2022.

Victoria has a wide range of experience in strategic business development across EMEA, the US and APAC, via product launches, acquisition integration, asset sales and change management. She is passionate about developing high-performing teams and employs a people-first approach to achieving business goals.

Rory Brown, CEO and co-founder of AgriBriefing

AgriBriefing is an international price reporting agency and market data business focused on agricultural / food commodities and biofuels. In the past Rory has held a range of senior positions across some of the world’s leading business information companies – Metal Bulletin/FastMarkets; Emap; Risk Waters and Incisive Media.

His entrepreneurial journey started in 2010 with the creation of a kitchen table startup, Briefing Media, which was focused on media strategy and launched TheMediaBriefing, Digital Media Strategies and the British Media Awards. There followed 3 cycles of private equity backed expansion starting with the acquisition of the 170-year-old Farmers Guardian and which has led today to a digital subscription business with over $30m in annual recurring revenues and a team of 150 working from offices in the US, UK & France. Rory is a former UK chair and global board member of SIPA – the specialised information publishers association.