I've seen it quite often that people refer to someone as a "former founder" or "former co-founder," but that's not really possible since a founder is always a founder. Once you found something, even if you leave the project that you founded, you are still a founder. You can't be a person who was at one time the founder of a project, but is no longer the founder. What's the proper way to refer to this phenomenon?

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    Estranged or divorced, perhaps? :) Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:07
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/456046/14666
    – Kris
    Commented Jul 17, 2018 at 11:19
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    They're still always the founder but they may receive an additional title from the company (often something generic like "lifetime/honorary chairperson"). But if someone left on bad terms/was ousted or fired, the company may prefer a less pleasant term.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 26 at 11:59
  • I’m voting to close this question because it's predicated on a misconception. Though a request for a concise term for a founder no longer resulting in 'founder emeritus' apparently yields an acceptable result. Commented May 26 at 15:01

4 Answers 4


I would suggest founder emeritus.

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines emeritus as an adjective meaning:

(of the former holder of an office, especially a university professor) having retired but allowed to retain their title as an honour

  • Ooooh, this is a good one. I was originally thinking something along the lines of coleopterist's answer, but "founder" doesn't necessarily have to do with a business, so the person might not necessarily be a CEO. This one works for any situation, however. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:21
  • Excellent! Going by Google, it also appears to be used quite often :) Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:23
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    I think emeritus suffers from the same problem as "former founder", in that it implies you no longer really qualify for the title but are allowed to keep it anyway; a company's founder always qualifies as its founder on his/her own merits.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 21:10
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    Both president emeritus and professor emeritus are used extensively, and indicate that the holder was a former active member in that position but now is inactive. The Latin root of emeritus means "earn by service".
    – bib
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 21:15
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    As the quoted dictionary definition implies, professor emeritus is a status that a university may confer on somebody upon retirement. Conferring the title upon somebody who served the university for a long time is usually a formality, but it is still a formality that needs to be preformed before the person can be called a professor emeritus. By analogy, founder emeritus should be used in a business setting, only if the business has formally conferred such a title on the person.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 26 at 16:11

From what I have seen, this is either handled with "Founder (no longer with the company)", or something like "Founder and former CEO of ...". I do not recall seeing any single-word alternatives to these.

Nice question :)

  • This one works, but it really only applies to companies. If someone founds a club at a school then quits, they wouldn't be the "former CEO." This is definitely still applicable to companies, though. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:22
  • @NickAnderegg CEO was just an example. It could be whichever title the founder held in the institution--former principal, former headmaster etc. But, I like "Founder Emeritus", albeit with the caveat that it sounds too ... prestigious and might not be suitable for all situations. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:24
  • That's true. But in other situations it doesn't necessarily convey that a person isn't with an organization anymore. I was thinking about something like a college club. Someone could found a club and be the president, but if the next year they decide they don't want the position anymore, although they would be "Founder and former President of..." it wouldn't convey if they were still in the club. They could be the former president, but still be a member. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:28
  • Founder emeritus does sound very prestigious. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:28
  • If we are looking to denigrate the lackey, perhaps instigator emeritus?
    – bib
    Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 17:35

The title for a founder who ceases to work at the company is:


Founding the company is a specific, immutable act that cannot be "undone" after the person leaves the company.

The "past relationship" should be indicated in some other way, such as "Founder and former CEO" or "Co-Founder, who left the company in 1977".

"Founder Emeritus" as suggested in the other answer is ok for a condensed title, although in my opinion it suggests that an official title of "founder emeritus" was awarded to the founder by the company. I do not think that term would be appropriate for use without such an official grant by the company. That's also a title, unlike "founder", that could be revoked.


One can charter a club and be the "founder", be granted "emeritus" status by the officers, board, or committee of the club for his/,her service and be called "founder emeritus" and once his/her membership status becomes inactive, he/she would be called an "alumni founder emeritus" either in good standing or bad standing if he/she followed the bylaws of the club.

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    – Community Bot
    Commented May 26 at 5:47
  • Welcome to ELU. I don't know where "alumni founder emeritus" comes from; alumni is plural. Corroboration would be useful.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 27 at 8:44

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