UK: MAKE-OR-BREAK TIME FOR THE NEW MAN AT THE TOP. - How should the new CEO approach the first 100 days?

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How should the new CEO approach the first 100 days?

For a newly appointed chief executive, the first 100 days in the job are generally reckoned to be crucial. So how should the new top man (or woman) approach this testing period? Should he go in shooting from the hip, and risk taking actions which could alienate those already in situ? Would it be wiser to adopt a softly, softly approach, even though this might mean wasting an unrepeatable opportunity for making an impact?

Fewer than half the senior executives recently polled by GHN, the Mayfair-based career consultants, thought that the initial three months would be an appropriate time for introducing new strategies, although two-thirds accepted that decisive action might be needed within the period.

Overwhelmingly, these respondents placed listening to others - and building relationships - at the top of their list of priorities. Very wisely, too, in GHN's view. Never underestimate the importance of listening, walking the floor and networking, advises the firm's managing director, Trevor Pullen.

The CEO's game-plan will depend on whether he has been brought in to fight fires or to look for new sources of growth, points out Roger Parry, the new managing director at More O'Ferrall. 'If there's a turnaround situation then you'll have to take some tough and decisive actions in the first few weeks to establish a future direction.' Happily, this was not required of Parry, who has lately completed his first 100 days with the poster company after transferring from Aegis Group, the media planners, where he was development director. 'I had the luxury of time to listen and get to know the key executives, to understand what made them tick,' he says. 'The next step is to understand the key levers of profit - what makes the business successful and where future profit growth will come from. Having done the homework, you then have to put together a detailed strategic plan to present to the board.'

It's risky to take major steps like buying a competitor or selling a division before you're sure you've got your top team behind you, Parry warns. 'You could find you've charged into battle and when you look behind there's no one following you.' Nevertheless, it may be easier to make an impact if you've arrived from another company rather than been promoted from within. Rhonda Rice has spent two years as managing director of market researchers FDS International, of Highgate, north London, but she has been 20 years with the organisation. 'A different strategy is needed when people have known you in another role,' she says. 'Both sides have to discard past agendas. You must be authoritative and emphasise your new areas of involvement.'

Malcolm Green, managing director of RIPA, a subsidiary of The Capita Group, thinks of the first 100 days as a honeymoon period when there's lots of goodwill around. 'Others have invested their judgment and trust in appointing you, and want you to succeed. Once the honeymoon's over, people will start to look for results.' Parry believes the honeymoon lasts a lot longer than that. Get the first three months right, he says, and you'll have a couple of years to turn new ideas into success stories. The board will not expect great advances in earnings or profit instantly - the CEO will be judged by results two years down the track. But if you blow it in the first 100 days, says Parry - if you make a serious mistake - you'll never recover. Clearly, 'softly, softly' gets the popular vote.

However, as Bob Bauman, chairman of British Aerospace (and former head of SmithKline Beecham) told MBA graduates at London Business School recently, any new chief executive will have key messages to get across. 'There's no magic time between the first week and the 20th when you need to start playing action man, but you must start as you mean to go on. Give a sense of urgency and momentum - and indicate that you're here to learn as well as make a contribution.'

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