Money doesn't buy happiness - even for CEOs

Beware executive headhunters bearing gifts, says Secret Cinema boss Max Alexander.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 03 Jan 2020

CEOs are generally pretty ambitious people. By definition they’re inclined to chase new opportunities - otherwise they wouldn't be where they are - and it’s also probably safe to say they’re motivated by money, given the pay cheques that come with the role.

So when the opportunity to take a bigger or higher-paid position comes up elsewhere, you’d expect their instinctive reaction would be to accept - but taking the risk doesn’t always pay off. 

Secret Cinema CEO Max Alexander found himself in that situation when, while working for close friend Charles Dunstone as MD of TalkTalk and before that Mviva, he was headhunted for the top job at Thomson Directories. 

Reflecting on his eventual decision, Alexander says:

"The role offered a lot of money and I demanded various things that I knew the people at Carphone Warehouse [of which TalkTalk was part] couldn’t deliver. 

"They were my friends, it was an interesting job and they really tried to meet me halfway in both cash and responsibilities, but I stormed out in a petulant, melodramatic tizzy and went to work for Thomson in Farnborough. 

"I realised pretty quickly, within days, that it was the wrong choice because it did damage to not just my friendship with Charles Dunstone, but also something that I’d spent years cherishing."

Despite the fact that he and Dunstone are now good friends again, Alexander says there’s almost nothing in his life he regrets more, but admits it did give him a valuable perspective when it came to choosing future roles. 

"Why is a job brilliant? Quite often it’s because you work with brilliant people. I’ve learnt that no amount of money could ever have made that the right choice, and without sounding pious, since then I’ve never done anything purely for the money."

Ultimately when it comes to choosing the "right" next step it comes down to the need - even at CEO level -  to figure out what really matters to you. That could be money, status or the challenge, but maybe it’s something else. 

The problem is it often takes a mistake such as Alexander's to figure out what really matters. In that case it's unavoidable - the only thing you can do is learn from it.


Image credit: Secret Cinema


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