“Part of my personal challenge is that I did not go into business thinking that I’m going to own a company someday. I didn’t know how I’d come up with the money to buy the company, so I convinced myself that it was never going to work” – Sandi Jacobs
After 25 years of working her way to the top of office interior design firm SideMark, Sandi Jacobs was named president of the company. It should have been the most exciting moment of her life. But self-doubt set in. “It’s very challenging to be in charge and run a company that belongs to someone else, executing someone else’s vision,” Jacobs says.
She was a natural choice to succeed retiring owner and CEO Randy Horton. After all, she had risen through the ranks, working closely with Horton to turn the $1 million Santa Clara-based business into a $50 million juggernaut.
Thanks to a tight-knit culture, which she was instrumental in building, SideMark enjoyed tremendous success, with a team of 50 dedicated employees and a roster of big-name clients such as DC Comics, Campari, and TMZ.
But Jacobs’ rise came with a vexing, seemingly unanswerable question: How would Horton exit the company in a way that would benefit both of them? For two years, Horton and Jacobs discussed and discarded various exit strategies before arriving at the realization that the best move for the company—and for Jacobs—would be for the new president to buy SideMark.
There was only one problem: For all her expertise envisioning workspaces for others, Jacobs couldn’t envision how to take on the financial responsibility of owning a midsize business.
From corner office to company owner
“I really had a limiting belief about that,” says Jacobs. “Part of my personal challenge is that I did not go into business thinking that I’m going to own a company someday. I didn’t know how I’d come up with the money to buy the company, so I convinced myself that it was never going to work.”
Jacobs credits her Vistage group for helping her get past her trepidation. As she listened to her fellow Vistage members push back on all the reasons she felt she couldn’t buy the company, something clicked, and she was finally able to envision herself taking ownership.
“I went from limiting belief to endless possibilities,” Jacobs says.
Jacobs admits that there were a lot of sleepless nights leading up to the actual deal closing, but she persevered. And in the nearly four years since she became owner, Jacobs has translated her story into a company culture of employee empowerment.
Creating a new company culture
She rolled out profit sharing and went open-book with the finances. Jacobs’ changes brought everyone together to work for the same goal. Just as she has learned to “get out of my own way,” she’s cultivated a culture that allows her employees to shine.
SideMark’s purpose to “make work feel good” translates directly to its employees, Jacobs says.
“If we can make work feel good as we’re doing it, both for our clients and ourselves, we’re going to have more fulfilling lives.”
As a result, there is a strong camaraderie among employees. Turnover is low. Dedication is high.
“When you’re CEO, you have this power that you can wield unintentionally,” Jacobs says. “But I’ve learned how to make it more about them and not me in order to get to the best solution.”