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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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3 Answers 3

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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

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  • 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. Aug 5, 2012 at 17:21
  • Excellent! Going by Google, it also appears to be used quite often :) Aug 5, 2012 at 17:23
  • @coleopterist - from our heightened towers, is that good or bad?
    – bib
    Aug 5, 2012 at 17:29
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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
    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
    Aug 5, 2012 at 21:15
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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 :)

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  • 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. 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. 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. Aug 5, 2012 at 17:28
  • Founder emeritus does sound very prestigious. Aug 5, 2012 at 17:28
  • If we are looking to denigrate the lackey, perhaps instigator emeritus?
    – bib
    Aug 5, 2012 at 17:35
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The title for a founder who ceases to work at the company is:

Founder

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.

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