Adam Anderson is not your typical entrepreneur. He has founded multiple companies, but now, he helps CEOs fire themselves. While CEO may sound like the dream job, Anderson believes that many CEOs can help their companies by putting effective leadership teams in place and then getting out of the way—transitioning from the role of CEO to owner. Anderson says, “The people that you’re working with and how you support them are so much more important than your personal ego… No matter how amazing and talented you are, you’re going to hit a peak, you’re going to hit a place where you can’t go any further without other people’s help.”
Throughout his life, Anderson has had a series of epiphanies that changed his course, some of which came about randomly. When he was working a job that required a lot of travel and came home to find that his golden retriever had urinated on the couch, he realized, “If you made your golden retriever mad you might be doing life wrong.” After that, he decided to look for something that would not require so much travel. Since Anderson had worked for various cybersecurity firms, a friend suggested he start a cybersecurity company of his own, and promised to be his first client. Over 13 years, he grew the business, Palmetto Security Group, from one to 25 employees.
He had thrown himself into the role of CEO, but eventually his brother and the president of the company told him that his marriage was on the rocks and forced him to realize that things in his life as a whole were not going well, so they fired him. Anderson says, “They loved me enough to keep paying me and so I fired myself, and I didn’t show up to the office for three years and they continued to run the company. It was a huge identity crisis because I thought I was a big deal, and I thought I was the one doing all the work and turns out, they did better without me. It was really humbling but also super cool, because I learned an important lesson.”
Now, Anderson consults company CEOs at certain stages of growth about how to successfully fire themselves without losing their sense of self worth and identity. He says, “Part of the game of firing yourself and not screwing it up is being mentally supported and prepared on how to do it in a graceful way that doesn’t destroy your company.” Anderson doesn’t believe that every CEO should fire themselves, but those whose companies are at a certain stage of growth, when they feel they have taken the company as far as they possibly can, and before they start to feel burnt out.
The latest company he founded, Hook Security, focuses on psychological security as a way to tackle cybersecurity threats in the workplace. Myriad companies have welcomed his new approach to cybersecurity education, which uses humor instead of fear to educate employees about cybercrime. Anderson is all about personal mindset when approaching any endeavor. His father was in the Air Force for 20 years, and pioneered the fields of behavioral science, bioethics and psychological warfare. That spurred Anderson’s fascination with emotional intelligence. He believes that long-lasting cybersecurity protection starts with a healthy work environment, where employees do not fear retribution for coming forward with cybersecurity concerns.
The pandemic has woken a lot of people up to the role of work in their lives, and to the state of their mental health. As so many people’s jobs moved online, it also gave cyber criminals a lot more opportunity to infiltrate company systems. Adam Anderson understands the importance of maintaining a healthy mental state, whether to spare employees from the repercussions of your identity crisis, or to detect cyber threats. He says, “I really champion entrepreneurship as a way of doing well—doing good—in a sustainable way.”