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Industry experience - Not necessary, absolutely necessary, or "it depends"?

Off the Map is a corporation that consists of three major "silos/divisions". We have three physical studio locations. Our HQ location has 9-10 resident tattooers and 100+ guests a year. We have world class partners at the two other locations. Our professional development events are some of the most respected in the world, as they are the largest quality concentration of education for tattooers that exists. Lastly, though first, we power technology for tattooers, with 175 active websites, and a few mobile apps.

Currently we are seeking a General Manager for the studio(s) and possibly a COO. Clearly management skills are separate from industry knowledge, but tattooing is a very particular high stakes art/business with nearly all the leverage in the hands of the artists. They won't be happy if I bring in a manager who doesn't know about tattooing. We have a large network and know most of the majors studios and the pool for expert managers with knowledge of tattooing is slim to say the least.

I have heard you can pick up a good COO from one industry and plop them into another, and I can understand how organization health is not (necessarily) industry specific, and navigating finding someone who is sharp at their job and truly wants to understand the nuances of Tattooing isn't easy. Still it makes me very uneasy to think about hiring someone who doesn't understand this fickle and dramatically evolving art.

So I suppose the essence of the question is, if a business is in the tippy top tier of quality and knowledge about an industry, how wise is it to bring in an executive that has little to know knowledge of the industry when the clients/team are nearly all experts...?

4 Replies

Chuck Blakeman
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Chuck Blakeman Entrepreneur
Founder, Chief Transformation Officer, Crankset Group
Gabe, Don't assume you need a manager. All the data says you'll build a much more successful organization without any managers at all, by building self-managed teams at each location. Whole Foods, Jimmy Johns, and many other retailers do this. You'll save money, your business will grow faster, have higher profits, and most importantly, people will stay exponentially longer. As one example - Survey.com shows that 15 of the 20 reasons a person will leave, 75%, are directly related to the manager "above" them. You don't even have one yet and you're already talking about this. In the emerging work world of the Participation Age, hundreds of large companies and thousands of smaller ones are building organizations with no managers at all - you should consider adopting the organizational structure of the present and the future, not the one from our past that we inherited from the factory system. Here's some resources: TEDx talk - youtube.com/watch?v=ewA2BqbWhUQ Inc. Mag Article - inc.com/chuck-blakeman/why-every-company-should-eliminate-all-managers-just-like-zappos.html Book - amazon.com/Why-Employees-Are-Always-Idea/dp[removed to protect privacy]/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=[removed to protect privacy]&sr=8-1&keywords=why+employees+are+always+a+bad+idea
Gabe Ripley
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Gabe Ripley Entrepreneur
Owner, TattooNOW, Off the Map Tattoo, and Tattoo Gathering
I'll take a peek at the links, and we are a tattoo shop, not really borrowing anything from normal business. It was an alternative pirate economy up until 10 years ago and we are all making up (and learning) the natural laws of business as we go.

We have had location managers for the last 8.5 years, and while we will be dividing the tasks for our HQ location until we find a replacement, I am not the right person to be doing, well, location manager tasks (neither are artists). Team support meetings aren't torture for me anymore, but with 35 people it simply takes a lot of time (and I want to find someone who enjoys/is an expert in it). It would be awesome if everyone could communicate (with clients and staff) and work and hire and fire without anyone specifically responsible...

So, I am not married to any structure (in fact, our structure has been uncomfortably loose for a few years despite the fact we are one of the "tightest" run tattoo studios). We are currently tightening up the organization structure/job titles/responsibilities so there is less confusion. It has been proposed the manager tasks/responsibilities could be split between "front of the house" and "back of the house" roles, but that means I will have two people to catch up with instead of one... It certainly feels like having a leader at each location is necessary, tattooers are an odd lot.
Ill take a read those links (I have checked out a few "flat" business models already) and let you know how they relate to what we have going on. Thanks for the insight.







Matthew Barmash
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Matthew Barmash Advisor
Consultant, MEB Consulting
Gabe, From my experience, and I can point to direct examples, top talent can always shift between industries. Right now, in the tech world, there is a heavy bias to the "expert". If you know collaboration, that is where you have value, security, cloud and so on. I personally know two execs that went from hair products to a tech company to fixing a roofing company and on to mining. Operations is operations, and yes tattooing is specific, but only in the unique nature of your tattooers. If you find someone who respects the art they produce, the rest should fall in line.
Scott McGregor
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Scott McGregor Entrepreneur • Advisor
Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.
Usually if you are at the tippy top you have the ability to hire away the top performers of your next largest competitors so you don't have to go outside your industry. However, you won't be able to hit someone with experience running an organization bigger than yours if you are already the biggest, unless you go outside your industry. Art, fashion and entertainment businesses are notoriously talent dependent, with fickle customers with ever changing desires. An exec from one of these other art, fashion or entertainment businesses can probably transition to learning the specifics of tattooing and win credibility with your team and partners. Your business puts art on bodies permanently; it probably has a lot in common with fashion (art you put on your body temporarily) or art you put on your walls to express your identity. Candidates from more stable, less talent dependent industries might have a harder time transferring or developing relevant skills. Scott McGregor, [removed to protect privacy], (408) 505-4123 Sent from my iPhone
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