Building to last: Employing a professional CEO

Building to last: Employing a professional CEO - DILEMMA: My business is profitable, but in chaos. We're all exhausted and tempers are frayed. I just can't manage it myself any more. I'm thinking of employing a professional chief executive.

by PATRICK DUNNE
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

DILEMMA: My business is profitable, but in chaos. We're all exhausted and tempers are frayed. I just can't manage it myself any more. I'm thinking of employing a professional chief executive.

ISSUES: Although highly professional visionary leaders are exceptional people, the next best thing to being one is to recognise that you're not. It's frustrating to realise that your ability to lead and manage doesn't match your creative or technical prowess but it's better for business in the long run.

If you do recruit, how will your own role change? This is as important as knowing what your new CEO is going to do. Assess your own capabilities. And make a realistic assessment of your top team and of the true potential of the business. Why would someone want to join you? Is it market opportunity, your technology, the chance to get equity, freedom?

Finding someone with similar values and passion for your business might prove harder than finding someone with a good track record. A recruitment like this takes time, maybe six months or more. You could advertise or take the DIY route, but a good search firm may be a better bet. It can help clarify the role and remuneration package issues and give you access to the right candidates.

You'll need to involve others in the final selection but avoid compromise. Think about how you will communicate what's going on to the rest of your team, be empathetic to their uncertainty. A new CEO has to be good at hiring and motivating, and able to forge strong links with existing staff, especially the finance director.

Once you've selected someone, what about their induction? Trusting them and letting go will be hard. Should you consider taking a non-exec role elsewhere to give the newcomer space?

ACTIONS:

- This is your most important job, focus on it.

- Take the time to decide what the company really needs.

- Select the right head-hunter and manage them tightly.

- Don't pick a new chief executive from a cast of one. Take time.

- Understand their real motives for joining you and do your own homework on them on top of the search firm's.

- Make it clear what you won't be doing now. You can't overdo the induction and communications.

- Agree your own modus operandi, stick to it and get yourself busy within or without.

Patrick Dunne works with 3i.

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