John Harty outlines some of the essential qualities to look out for when recruiting top-level CEOs.
If the recent credit ratings upgrade from Standard and Poor’s and Fitch are anything to go by, it would appear that over the last five years, the CEOs of Irish businesses and Irish subsidiaries have led their organisations successfully through one of the worst economic downturns in Irish history.
However, it would be folly to think that the fight is over. Indeed, as we emerge into this new era of growth, CEOs must adjust and position themselves to stake their claim on the market before their competitors do.
The most successful corporations will be those that can quickly adapt to this new environment, learning how to capitalise on the opportunities, while reducing the risks brought by megatrends. The era of crisis management and uncertainty is over and in its place is the time for analysed risk and change.
The power of three
But just what are these magatrends? According to PwC’s 17th Global CEO Survey (2014), ‘CEOs think three fundamental external forces will have the most impact on their businesses over the next five years: technological advances, demographic changes and global economic shifts.’
While these trends are nothing new, it is the rapid pace at which they are developing and the impact they are having on one another to create a completely unfamiliar environment. The report continues by highlighting that ‘there will be many new opportunities for growth − and many new challenges − in three key areas: harnessing technology to create value in totally new ways; capitalising on demographic shifts to develop tomorrow’s workforce; and serving consumers in a new economic landscape.’
The wheat and the chaff
While the skillsets of CEOs can vary widely, depending on the type of business they are in; there are three qualities that, over the coming years, will truly separate the top CEOs from the rest: These are leadership, strategic vision and demonstrable creativity.
In today’s Ireland, managing uncertainty is a daily part of any CEOs workload. The role of the CEO is to take analysed risks that will steer the corporation into a position of strength in a period of emerging growth.
The ability to identify these threats, while recognising new opportunities, and reacting in an appropriate manner is often what separates the top CEOs from the rest and makes the difference between sustained profitability and corporate deficit. The best CEOs are cognisant of the past, extremely focused on the present and constantly aware of how the future may unfold for his/her corporation.
Leading from the front
Of course all good CEOs are also great leaders. They have the ability to empower people so that the decisions they make and the actions that are taken, are in line with the overall values and strategy of the organisation.
While these high calibre people are proven in their analytical and decision making abilities, they understand the importance of setting an example and inspiring the workforce to follow. Such skills help ensure maximum output from all elements of the corporation as the autonomy flows down from the executive team, to directors, to managers and so on − a must for any organisation planning to attack and secure market share.
As the economic gears continue to shift, perhaps the most distinguishing quality of the most successful CEOs will be demonstrable creativity.
Being able to show that they can take a product or service in a long established industry, such as insurance, and redefine it through to meet the needs of a rapidly changing market. This will require a more inherent understanding of the various aspects of the business, an ability to consolidate the advice and recommendations of both the executive team and the board of directors and a long-term vision for the company, bringing into play those first two qualities I mentioned above.
Corporations today must be prepared to cast their nets far and wide when identifying and appointing a new CEO. When assessing these contenders suitability, the same principles apply: effective leadership, strategic vision and demonstrable creativity.
John Harty is managing director of Harty International, a leading executive search firm with offices in Dublin and London.