What would you do differently if you were named the chief executive officer (CEO) of your company tomorrow? A candidate’s answer to this question provides many insights into how the person thinks about the company, the competitive landscape and the job of CEO. It also helps test candidates’ true readiness for the top job.
The thinking behind the response may be as or more important than the response itself. Providing a long list of action items or strategic initiatives, for example, does not necessarily demonstrate a person’s CEO-readiness, and may create an impression that the executive is overeager or arrogant. Responding with too long a pause and extensive reflection may be seen as a significant signal in its own way as well, coming off as unpreparedness.
In the industrial and diversified manufacturing sectors, companies are often led by executives who are engineers by training and have developed the requisite intangible soft skills to round out the pragmatic nature of their business and core skill sets. Agreed, the technical knowledge needed to execute product strategy in, say, an aerospace and defense supplier is much different than the skill set needed to launch products in a retail clothing company.
With that said, supply chain is supply chain, finance is finance, and operations is operations, right? Wrong. The variable factor in all these comparisons is people. There is no amount of machine learning out there that will teach a CEO how to motivate his or her employees, negotiate the best deal with their customers, champion and catalyze culture change or build an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion.
When a company board selects the next CEO, directors often deliberate on the candidates’ experience. The experience is what gets them to the table. However, it is the “fit” with the board’s view of the context for the role that leads to selection. Further, alignment and fit with the board is paramount to succeeding as CEO and ensuring that a strong board culture is built. This manifests itself, especially in private-equity backed situations, that usually begin and end with demanding targets.