Midnight CEOs

What did you think of when you first read the title? Possibly a heartless slave driver who keeps people late into the night and demands reviews at unearthly hours? Or the one who hates going home because the best ideas don’t keep regular hours?

Actually, it’s a phrase¬†used¬†by the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur magazine to describe a new trend – the rise of the small entrepreneur in difficult times. The conventional wisdom is that people try to hold on to their existing jobs in a time of recession since finding another one is so hard. And yet, they are preparing to jump ship and start off their own enterprises, since they believe that entrepreneurship offers the best safety net – seems crazy but they think it beats the comfort of being in an organisation ‘too large to fail’ and worrying about when they will be downsized.

Instead, they are building their own little nest egg on the side while they work in the large company – outside of office hours. Hence the term ‘Midnight CEO’s’ – where they work to sail their small little ships in the night. Most of these enterprises are tiny – less than ten people. They don’t necessarily do different things. They just provide the same services on a smaller scale. And the reason they leave their ‘big’ organisations is that they view the world differently. They don’t want double digit growth year on year. They don’t want to open offices in Shanghai and Rio next year. They don’t want to discover the next big thing. They just want to keep doing what they do with a set of people who value the relationships just as much as the contractual obligations and the professionalism.

What’s worrying the economists is that they aren’t interested in expanding their organization or creating more employment. But growth as an indicator of the health of the economy is vastly overrated. In India, there is an entire generation that has grown up working unbelievable hours in the information technology industry and the only goal is to meet the projections of the next quarter. That’s a mug’s game. It’s like saying your only dream as a child is to grow to be seven or ten feet tall. Unless you aim to make the basketball team, that growth serves no purpose at all

The Midnight CEOs can be accused of keeping their horizons small. But that’s who we are, isn’t it? Most of us like being around our friends and families and watching our children grow. What resumes of high achievement do not record are the compromises made to achieve that goal. So, there is a small but growing group that says they want to get off the treadmill and take a walk around the park. They don’t want to be fodder for the statistics of a balance sheet that relentlessly dictates the pace of growth and does so little for the soul. It may not be a welcome trend but I believe that the fast-trackers who zipped around the world and ran the job marathon are tiring because the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is actually at home – not out there