What you need to do before becoming CEO

Ondrej Vlcek spent three months doing this before taking the top spot at FTSE 250 antivirus firm Avast.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 21 Nov 2019

Although he suspected he might one day be offered the top job, Ondrej Vlcek didn’t know for sure whether he would get to be CEO of FTSE 250 antivirus firm Avast. 

He only found out 10 days before the official announcement in March 2019, when long-term CEO Vince Steckler confirmed that he was stepping down, and that he wanted Vlcek, then president of the firm’s consumer division, to be his replacement. 

Vlcek had been at the Czech firm his entire career, having joined as an intern in 1995, but despite being well-known within the company, he decided he wanted a new perspective before becoming the most senior face of the business.

"I had a 100-day cooling down period which was really convenient because then I could really step back and disengage from my previous role of running the consumer business. 

"I travelled to all of the major offices globally and spent a lot of time talking to people to try to really understand what was going on. The only way you can get that unfiltered view of the company is by talking to as many people as possible. They are closer to the product, closer to the sales and closer to the customers. 

"I asked some high level questions, for example ‘what do you think or Mr A, B, or C’, about the company’s strengths and weaknesses and what  three things they would change if they were in my shoes. Most of the responses were about culture, or where people wanted the company to be in the future.

"Over that three month period I had roughly 150 one-hour interviews. I filled one and a half Moleskine notebooks of scribbled notes and spent quite some time synthesising that information. I had mental checkpoints every two weeks where I would look back over the notes to see if there were common themes or points to prioritise. 

"It was really important for me to get that unfiltered information and carry out my own sort of analysis of the company. 

"On my first day we did an all-hands meeting with all 1,800 employees. I tried to focus on the basics - who I am and what I want for the company. It’s not like I was new to the business, but clearly the CEO needs to be more visible than anyone else and not everyone necessarily knew me. 

"Then I took my executive team offsite and we spent the next two days getting to know each other better, mulling over the high-level objectives and outlining the rules of engagement.

"I think this approach really helped me to build rapport with some important people. The toughest part of leadership is the fact that you have to be very determined and know where you’re going, but at the same time you can’t be a dictator about it. It’s not always easy but the approach I took of taking the time to travel to people’s offices has worked well." 

Image credit: Avast


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