Out of the Blue

Why no hike mantra

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Many years ago when I received a ‘no hike’ communication from my manager post appraisal. I think he confused me but I still returned without feeling bad as he said something which ‘then’ appeared convincing.

He said salary raise is only possible under 3 circumstances

  1. The organisation has met its financial goals
  2. The team had met its performance goals
  3. The Individual had exceeded his/her goals

He was wrong, I realised that many years later. There are other reasons to get hikes and those conversations are neither difficult nor out of line to have

For example there is something called as

  1. Inflation : means at least I should get some % of hike, like a ‘prasad’ which most get for coming to office
  2. Peer : If my peers get a good hike (even if they have performed better), then automatically I deserve a hike. It’s easy because managers don’t or can’t tell us on the face that we have underperformed compared to others. They are buried under the shock of “how we got to know” or embarrassed that they gave our peer a better hike
  3. Market Parity: If competitors can pay higher to my role(check the offer they have made me) then I deserve similar hikes too
  4. Personal needs : This is a repeat, But still let me say this again. I am getting married, buying a house, car, having a baby, parents hospitalized, school/college admission.

I am wondering if he actually trained me to be sane employee for the future or just cheated me at that point of time as I did not have enough

  1. Knowledge (Reading the right stuff would have made me more knowledgeable on the inflation part)
  2. Internal network (to know what others are getting paid)
  3. External network (to get another job offer to show)

I wonder if factors like how the company is doing/profitable applies in today’s world!

Travel To Work! Should we be paid for Commute?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

The commute to work in large cities is getting longer. Should travel to work be considered as work hours or people be paid additional allowance for travel?


For some of us, this sounds bizarre, and for people who are traveling 3 hours a day to work, this might be feeling just right.  Recently a publication claimed 61% of employees surveyed wanted “Travel to Work” to be included as work hours. So, the majority of us are thinking in that direction. On the other hand, we also complain about not having enough jobs for freshers. Our productivity is still abysmally low. 

Are some of us who are lucky or skilled enough to have been meaningfully employed?

Am I wonder if we are stretching our luck by asking for “Travel to work” to be counted? Maybe!

Work from Home

As much as Work from Home has become a norm amongst knowledge workers, they represent only a tiny proportion of the workforce. Even amongst them, the majority still frequently travel to work.

 But, Travel to be counted as work? The complexity for Employers is only increasing 🙂

All of us know our large cities have become a nightmare to commute. Moreover, our productivity is diminishing directly with the distance we are traveling to work.

Travel Pay

Imagine if there is an additional allowance directly proportional to the distance we go to work. And none for work from home. What would you think would be the percentage of people traveling to work just to avail of the allowance?

Our country is just beginning to see the best of the employment market.  I am wondering if we are asking for too many perks already!

Maybe we should argue this as the best way forward?

Only Perks matter

Though some companies, which are cost centers and saving millions of dollars, can afford travel pay for now. Eventually, it may not be affordable even for them. First came the Travel assistance (Cabs, Buses which fetched and dropped from Home), then came the cafeterias so that you did not have to worry about food when it came to working. Then came the Gyms and recreations to ensure you never left the office. Creches for parents so that half the family came to work. 

Courses/executive education so that you did not have to worry about an upgrade. 

Now Travel-Pay is the latest addition to benefits if it comes into play.

What next? Attendance allowance?

Offsites the preferred choices for team building?

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Why are Offsites the preferred choices for teambuilding? We spend millions of dollars on real estate and build offices in key locations. Some of us even choose to join certain organizations because the offices’ look hep or the bosses appear cool during interviews. But, to work better in the same offices and bosses we need to go offsite to an exotic resort. We need to further spend the organization’s time and money to create energy. Isn’t that an irony? Why does the bond increase only when we see the greeneries at the hotels or play, sing, and dance together? It’s so difficult to create the same bonding at the workplace where we spend much more time with the same colleagues. To top this we need a paid external facilitator to umpire amongst us and tell us the strength of teamwork! Do the Emails, Excels, powerpoint, Word documents create such vast distances amongst us? Or is it the masks we wear at offices? How many times have we come back from an offsite and said: “I got to know so much more about you and now we are friends!” I always loved Offsites when I was an employee. It seems to be the best expensive magic pill to bring people together.

Sales at any cost?

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Sales at any cost? The so-called “war cry” orientation in sales driven organizations are a double-edged sword? Sales teams are often motivated by beating competition than winning the customer. Sometimes as leaders, we unknowingly breed “achieving numbers” as a culture. We fail to reinforce the rulebook as most often we assume its understood. I once told my business head  “Jo bhi ho 2 Crore karna hai”. 6 months later we had to terminate him as we found huge irregularities in the invoicing and false invoices against imaginary customers. My boss snapped at me by saying it was a result of my style of pressuring people to perform and only highlighting top performers. He said it was a result of winner takes all culture. My defense was I did not ask him to cheat. But, somewhere when we highlight aggression and winning as the only badge of recognition, fair means take a back seat. After all, there are no organization awards for integrity and Fairplay. It is always about winners!

Boss having an affair with colleague?

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If your boss is having an affair with your colleague, What would you do?  When my boss indulged in this last time around I quit 🙂 I guess office romance is neither new nor avoidable. When we spend long hours at work, attractions and relationships are a logical consequence. It only becomes uncomfortable when the person in question is your boss. Furthermore, if the boss is in a affair with your immediate colleague the team dynamics worsens. In a world of frequent boss-bashing, additional ammunition gets loaded at the boss. Everything s/he does is viewed through a magnifying lens. Even if they conduct themselves professionally all of us around them get distracted due to the visible relationship. The trust level decreases. Every decision feels like a conflict of interest.  The boss is constantly seen as somebody who is favoring her/his courting partner and the colleague in question is seen as a spy. The team around them get distracted due to their frequent meetings or disappearances in the name of work. Talks about ethics, integrity, morality get heightened if one of them is married outside of that relationship. Acceptance of leadership and productivity of the team can suffer.  What would you do when you encounter this? I was immature, I quit.

Offsites : License to Misbehave?

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Should employees care about their trusted colleagues and the brand they represent when they are offsites?

 It’s been 15 years of my employment and I have never attended any offsite said, my colleague. My family just doesn’t allow me” she added. I was bringing together all my colleagues for the first time and I  needed a full house. “This is where you get to bond with colleagues better. It will be a different setting, you will experience colleagues from other locations, there will be lots of informative sessions. You will understand our vision, direction and it will also be fun” I persuaded her till she said yes. However, that day on my way home as I reflected on my multiple offsite experiences I wasn’t sure about my assurance to her.

The Dancing Prince

As a first time manager, I was excited about my first offsite at Agra. About 40 of us had gathered in a resort. We loved the visits to all the historic places during the day and as it happens a cocktail dinner was planned with senior leaders who had arrived from Hq. Most of the team were experiencing an event like this for the first time and were happy to just down their drinks with some chit-chat. Just then somebody increased the volume of the music and some Bollywood hits started to play out. To all of our surprise, we saw our boss’s boss the quietest man until then breaking out on the dancing floor. Many of us were nervous as we didn’t know if it was ok to dance with senior leaders. Just then our sales head pulled one of our lady colleagues for a dance.


There were just two women amongst the 40 and it was clear they weren’t comfortable about what just happened. The lady in question continued to dance with the old drunk pro; every time she retreated back to her seat he would pull her back to the dance floor. As her supervisor, I helplessly looked at my boss who was looking the other way as the leader in question was his boss. This went on till the DJ ended the music. It was clear that there were many red faces that night including mine. Next morning breakfast was a challenging one when I asked my colleague about the previous evening. She said if your super boss is sort of forcing me to dance and both my immediate bosses are not intervening what do you expect me to do? As a 24-year-old manager, I could only plead helplessness. I think the dance floor is the most awkward place to be in an offsite. The most innocent looking colleagues in the office hallway turn rogue with a couple of drinks and with dance and music as an excuse to bond.

The Usual Suspects

All offsites have some usual drills. A speech by the CEO or business head who organizes it. Some external facilitator to take you through some team building activities. Invariably after the team building activities, you are supposed to exclaim your familiarity with your colleague who has been sitting next to you at the office. Men like to play cricket and they force everybody to get into that game so that few of them can show how well they can bat with novices bowling. The boredom amongst the remaining is palpable but who cares? Then there is this act of getting into the pool and breaking all norms the resort would have set for swimming. Here again, there is a wide display of pushing and pulling of colleagues who are uncomfortable with water.

But, it is not just your colleagues whom you make uncomfortable but also the other guests who have unfortunately chosen to holiday at the same time in that hotel.

Branding nightmare

Most employers organize offsites for annual kickoffs, new product launches, a celebration of milestones or for team building exercises. Depending on the size of the organisation and the context hundreds of people congregate in luxurious hotels. Almost every guest in the hotel gets to know about it as there is a prominent display of the brand. Plenty of employees wear their company logo Tshirts while they indulge in all the activities at the hotel.  So, besides having fun and bonding with colleagues maybe there is a need for the employees to protect their brand image too in those surroundings for at least a couple of days.

But, executives are so immersed with their fun that they forget about the remaining guests who are sort of held to ransom with their en masse unruly behaviour across restaurants, pool, gym and other common areas. I forgot to add the anthakshari fans who only stop when the other guests in the neighbouring rooms complain. Even at 2, AM people tend to say give us another 10 minutes and we will be done. Hotels also plead helplessly as they have no control post signing up with their high-value customer.

I have to admit that not all offsites are coloured with these bad behaviour. Many organisations ensure that the employees have a good learning and bonding time with colleagues besides fun. There are still plenty of organisations who conduct offsites with a sense of purpose. However, we all know that offsites sometimes tend to become off-limits for good behaviour. This post is a flashback to the not so good times during offsites.

The CEOs dilemma: Legacy or Popularity

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The legacy of CEOs is often decided by their ability to be unfazed while making  tough calls and avoid feel-good short-term decisions

Last week has been rife with discussions around the 1975 national emergency. The comparison between Late Indira Gandhi and Narendra Modi and the various opinions around their leadership are still doing rounds. World over political leaders and corporate CEOs face this enormous pressure of staying popular and leaving behind a worthy legacy. Think about Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Russi Mody. They are today rather remembered for their strong legacy than their few unpopular acts that may have antagonised people then.

The Dilemma of legacy

The boards want a CEO who drives results. The employees want a leader who offers them freebies, who poses for selfies. The world wants better human beings. In real life, we praise people who can give, who are compassionate and also humble.  When it comes to leaders around us we also want to see articulate, charismatic, connecting personalities. Somehow, all these fluffy things don’t add up when we want to see them all in one leader. Furthermore, in the long run, we will only remember the lasting impact of the CEO than the few people feeling good. It’s no secret that the ultimate impact would be measured in financial results. So what are the characteristics which make the authoritarian leaders successful?

Result Orientation

Our new global CEOs had just taken charge. Her visit to Asia started with a captivating townhall speech to the employees. Later, when I met her one to one she asked me to reverse one of my recent big decisions. It was a key decision and was going to catch the attention of people if I withdrew it. With a gun at my head, I swallowed my pride and aligned to what she asked for. Later, I reached out to my peers in other countries and said: “the devil is here”. They weren’t surprised as by then they already had got affected by her similar centralised decisions.

Over the next 2 years, she took many such decisions which weren’t consensus-driven nor popular with her CXO reportees. First of all, the results started to show. The leaders who couldn’t align either performed or quit. She transformed the results of the region like never before. The board was happy, so were many more front-line employees who had started to earn incentives. Her communication with frontline staff was continuous and inspiring. The only people who loathed her were people who were reporting directly as she was ruthless about execution and results. She wasn’t the kind of CEO who took you to exotic off sites, private dinners or sent personal gifts. In contrast, you couldn’t complain that she wasn’t nice to you when your name was regularly on the performers’ list.


We tend to loathe leaders whom we claim are narcissists. But, strong leaders who need to stand the test of time and take tough calls will have traces of narcissism.  It comes as a package.  Leaders whom you hail as great decision makers are likely to get a few of them wrong. The very narcissist trait avoids these leaders from sulking over their mistakes and move on. Decision making is a key asset of great leaders. If that’s compromised because they want to be popular or want safer bets then their role is considerably weakened. Organisations which have tougher mandates need to consider leaders with traces of narcissism for a quicker turnaround. Yes, it’s a double-edged sword but still better than a leader who needs to babysit on decision making. The board’s ability to have a check and balance on abuse of power is critical when you have autocratic leaders.

The Last Mile connect

One of the key ingredients of success for autocratic leaders is their last mile connectivity. The CEOs ability to have the magic with their customers or connect with front-line employees cannot be ignored. Many of them keep a direct involvement with this crucial interface. Otherwise, they will be trapped by their sycophant loyalists who might not give a real picture on the ground reality. Social media tools and technology have made these connects easier for CEOs to interact with their front line seamlessly. The lifeline for any authoritarian leader is their ability to marshal their frontline employees. The successful ones balance their connect with the front line staff and their customers. Most likely their narcissism is experienced by their immediate reportees with whom they spend considerable time.

So, when they spend with the frontline staff they ensure they are charming and inspiring. That’s where they are smart, they are able to transform their behaviour in the right contexts.

Every organisation who have a turnaround, acquisition-based growth strategy or very ambitious growth plans need autocratic leaders. Autocratic leadership is not always sustainable as it could turn into a dictatorship in the long run.

Having said that when you look at how Mahathir, Lee Kuan Yew transformed countries, Imran Khan created a winning team and what a GE or Apple became you wonder if autocratic leadership is bad at all?

Best place to work! really?

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Rating best place to work is a tricky affair –  are we getting the parameters right or getting too swayed by frills? 

I am sure many of you love your organisation. If that’s an exaggeration then let’s say some of us do. At least on the days of salary, bonus, promotions and other self-gain days! But certainly, there must be days when you and your colleagues feel great about working for your organisation.  In spite of this do you wonder why your company is not talked about as one of the best employers.

It is believed that disengagement is highest amongst employees at the global level right now. At the same time, we have multiple publications throwing up a long list of best place to work. This is where everything is hunky dory. A common aspect when you read the parameters while rating best employers is that of frills. Employers seem to be getting rated on tangibles which can be measured which are all employee benefits.

I looked at what was being touted as great things in one of the published list of top employers. Sample some of them:

  • Additional paid vacation, extended paternity and maternity benefits
  • Fitness centres at work
  • Work from anywhere
  • Free food at office
  • Concierge services
  • Financial support for University Education

Yes, these things will definitely make employees happy. Compare these frills with other workplace experientials like feeling valued, job fulfilment, equal opportunities to grow, great manager. Do you think employees will trade these for the frills and benefits? I am inclined to believe they will go for the great experiences. But then one can argue that great organisations are capable of combining the benefits and valued experiences together. How about organisations who have all the extended financial cum holiday benefits but also have toxic organisational culture, limited career growth opportunities, high attrition and hence lower employer productivity?

Rating employers is a tricky affair, each publication has its own methodology and own logic to enrol participating companies. Sometimes it skews results as some brilliant start-ups never get featured. These start-ups may not tick the minimum criteria the publication would have laid down in its stipulations. But one thing is common across all the surveys – it’s the battle of benefits.

Measurable vs Feel Good

The discussions around dream employers who have authentic leadership, transparent culture, going beyond share holder needs, allowing employees to express themselves, not having silly rules, having meaningful work are still relevant. But it’s becoming difficult to measure these and compare them meaningfully. Think about it. Isn’t it easier to compare number of extended paternity days, gym fitted offices against authentic leadership and transparent work culture?

I am also told these surveys are primarily showcased towards talent attraction where tangible benefits are required to be demonstrated. An HR Head asked me if showcasing the highest productivity would mean that the place was a grind? So, he rather chose to demonstrate tangible benefits which allows visible comparisons than to use imagination about culture and leadership. In many organisations, these surveys are anchored by Marketing departments. So, it becomes an exercise to market than demonstrate the core of the organisation.

Employer Experience

I was once part of a team where we moved attrition from 67 per cent to 30 per cent. Business transitioned from loss to profit and also got higher Net Promoter Scores from customers. We attained higher employee productivity progressively. But, when we asked our colleagues they only remembered some thing else. Things like moving to a 5-day work week from 6, Friday dressing, 4-day work week for top performers were on top of their mind. They also thought highly of the exotic locations annual awards were held, holidays extended to self/spouse birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

But I can’t paint everybody with the same brush. My friend’s daughter who is 23 wanted to quit a large benevolent organisation which had a laundry list of benefits. She said she wanted the grind to ensure that she learnt more when she was young. So, she joined what one could describe as a sweat shop, I guess not all of us are the same.

Tangible vs Culture

The daily experience at work, culture, growth prospects, value adding supervision and authentic leadership are a must. But we haven’t found our way to describe it while attracting talent. Is it easier to list out the financial benefits?  Hence the parameters to discover the dream employer mostly revolve around tangible benefits?

Dive down into these lists. It appears that many organisations that make the best place to work grade are also commercially highly successful. They also provide superior customer experience with some cutting-edge products.

Maybe it’s the narrative that needs to change and not how the surveys are done?

My Best place to work? …where they play movies all day on multiple screens!

A related post on whom we would like to work for which I wrote last year gives another view on what we might enjoy!

Back Bite – The art of conniving colleagues!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

I’ve never lost sleep over soccer. I’m also not a fan of Suarez, the famous Uruguay footballer. But, his infamous “bite” in the 2014 soccer world cup will be itched in peoples mind for years.

Yes, it was hard to ignore Suarez’s bite as much as it is to ignore the Backbite at the workplace!

In the roles I juggle in life, it reminds me of the backbiting that takes place at work. Aha…I can clearly see the smile on your faces. We must acknowledge that no one is a saint. We have, at one point or another, indulged (and will continue to) in backbiting our colleagues in their absence for a host of reasons. Backbiting as a term is defined as “an unsporting attack from the rear from the blood sport of bearbaiting.” But then, do you really need a definition? We know what it is and how it works.

Inferiority Complex?

I used to view the habit of backbiting as a sign of inferiority complex. When you bite behind the scenes, it can never be called brave, for obvious reasons! There are times, however, that it could be an emotional moment of expression rather than planned intent. But today, I have realized that many of episodes of backbiting are nothing but an outpour of something we carry deep in our mind about our peers or friends or relatives. When I see my daughters and their friends enacting the “behind-the-scenes” talking, its huge entertainment value for me. I get this feeling that we must be picking up this habit from a very young age and it never leaves us. All said, in my view, the benefits of backbiting are limited beyond that of feeding the sadistic side of our personality!

Backbiting Flashback

Don’t get me wrong as I’m no stranger any more than you are to backbiting. Once, a long time ago, I recall telling my boss (in a closed-door meeting) about a few of my peers. I got so bitchy about my IT Head that I called him incompetent in frustration. Maybe I lost sight of a more politically correct word to explain his “incompetence”. I don’t know what my boss shared with the IT Head but all I knew for sure was that I never got the best in terms of IT system and support till the IT Head left the organisation. I’m sure, however, of either one of these two – he either knew the exact verbatim I had used on him or that I didn’t “love” him much.

All our interactions from that fateful day had a needle in them. I didn’t benefit anything from the attack I carried out on him. All I got was some anxious interactions with him as whenever we spoke, I felt he knew what I thought of him 

Leaders and Bitching

It’s inevitable to hear a lot of these unhealthy conversations when I lead teams. There is always somebody talking about the other in a negative light. Sometimes it happens when I solicit feedback but most often than not, the worst scathing attack comes when I haven’t asked for it. Some even have a sophisticated way of packaging it by saying “Boss, I’m going to tell you something below the belt”. I have gotten used to it so much that when I meet some of my colleagues I’m prepared for 30% of the time to be wasted on talking rubbish about other colleagues. Some of them do that just to deflect attention from their own poor performances.


Some of us believe that by having access to the boss we can influence thoughts by feeding negativity about our peers. Little do we realise that the person sitting opposite us is also judging us when we let loose our negative side. In my view, backbiting is not a “one-time” episode – it’s a chronic disease. It never leaves us once we know that we have the boss’s ears. One of my bosses had this unique habit of favouring the first person who complains about the other. So we always used to ‘Q’ up to him to ensure our side of the complaint reached him first. It was a nice “divide and rule” trap which he laid and we suffered till he left the company.

So next time you want to back-bite your colleague/peer, think twice. He or she will also have similar opportunities and it doesn’t take long for karma to bite you back. Remember, the world behind us is so powerful. We don’t have enough presence or power to influence it in our absence. Good luck to you if Backbiting is your second nature!

Back Bite

The Wild Adventure Of Working For Co-Founder Couple!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

There are fascinating stories of Co-Founder couples who have created great companies and also of those couldn’t take off. The next 3 minutes is for all those who worked, still working or maybe joining Co-Founder couples in the future.

“Can I join your company?” asked my wife recently during our morning coffee, I didn’t know if she was serious. I instinctively said ‘no’ without asking for details and lost my rights for the weekend at home 🙂

Needless to say, I love my wife, my entrepreneur journey is taking baby steps, its long hours at work now. I would love to see my wife more often than I do, but not sure for that she needs to be at the office too. Can she add value to my work? absolutely! There are a whole lot of tasks which I am not good at, she can easily walk into it and free my time for what I am good at. It will save time/money in hiring colleagues to do the same work, not to forget the trust which comes easily with her. But, some baggage’s in my mind refuse to die down. Two of my employment stints had founder couple at the helm, I have mixed memories.

One disastrous and one memorable. So, all my rant is based on my not so good memories which are easy to remember :-), as always read it with a pinch of salt!

The Boss

When Founder Couple are in leadership positions (difficult to picture them differently), it does put the other staff at unease. You won’t know if you are dealing with one person or two. I define them as ‘one’ when they agree and ‘two’ when they disagree with the same decision. The challenge is most of us aren’t used to this ‘work setting’ so maybe we see it with a magnifying glass. Strange isn’t it as we must be used to seeing our parents running the family. Hence, we must be have seen the workings of it closely for much of our growing up time. I know it’s a peculiar comparison but think about it again.

Decision making

Many transactions in organisations involve decision making. We evaluate the merits of organisations based on how they make their decisions, whether its sales strategy, people related issues, communication at various levels; it is about how the organisations choose to behave, which involves taking a few decisions. When it involves founder couple we tend to see it with an extra lens as we suspect there would always be a conflict of interest.

At one of my employers, few meetings used to be awkward, we used to go around the room for a decision, the CEO would then glance at the spouse before his/her final decision came by. For us, it used to be a fascinating sight when their eyes used to meet. Especially if the spouse had a different opinion than the rest of the leadership team. As you can imagine such decisions were never taken and stalled most often by the CEO 🙂. We used to come out scratching our heads as to why we spent so much time if the decision was to be taken on the dinner table at home!

Role Duality

Some of the Co-founders go on to say their roles are segregated and they don’t mix personal and professional stuff. How on earth is it really possible? The same person acting differently with his/her partner just because they came to a different location. It is difficult to comprehend! The roles could be different, but we know in leadership roles they all circle back to the Co-founders quickly. So, in spite of professionalism that we pledge ourselves to, it is difficult to believe that relationship allegiance does not influence their roles.


The larger challenge comes when there are conflicting situations. Imagine if the Spouse is the Sales Head and does not agree on a pricing/sales strategy. Can you think of going to the Co-Founder CEO quoting that your spouse disagreed? Yes, we can argue ‘here’ that it has happened to you before and there are professional Sales head CEO couples out there. It is also possible that some of those proposals have been passed. But then, you very well would know how that would be a minority statistically. Can we also admit that it is awkward to confront one of them in others presence when you have a divergent view of any situation? It’s quite possible that we would be careful while challenging any of them when the spouse is present. You think we would care otherwise in a non-couple founder setting?

Been There Done That

I would be unfair to my own experience if I keep writing against the Founder-Couple organisation concept any further. My longest tenure as an employee has been for a Co-founder couple. All the challenges described above in terms of decision making and conflict of interest used to be common too in that setting. But, I thought they handled that with right professionalism which I found it hard to live by in any promoter instinct driven setting. Maybe I am limited and biased with my experience. However. many of my colleagues there also allude to the fact that it was difficult to picture them as a couple in our work setting. The role clarity they had and how they avoided nepotism is something even I can’t think of replicating!

My isolated tenure though personally significant is an outlier to many such organisations out there. I would still be wary of joining Co-Founder Couple led organisations. I think it isn’t easy to navigate or feel your professional worth consistently.

The CEO always drowns alone, so pay him for the risk to keep himself afloat.