Sunday, December 4, 2011

Who Really Wants to be a CEO?

In an interesting article in today’s UK Sunday Times, Eleanor Mills, writes that “it is viewed as the pinnacle of any aspiring executive’s career but, according to a new study a generation of corporate high-flyers are saying no to being the chief executive officer. Instead, say head-hunters, the elite of the business world are deciding to put their families first and walking away from the corporate life,” (p.5).

Eleanor highlights the report, Who Wants to Be a CEO in 2012?, in which MBS interviewed 40 high-profile candidates who had turned down senior executive roles, found that business leaders, despite being trained for the top in our biggest companies, are shunning the posts. The pressure to perform under the glare of the media spotlight is one reason for opting out, but lifestyle choices and a desire to avoid the stultifying demands of corporate bureaucracy – so called M&M’s (meetings and managers) – is another.

Her article goes on to say that “the trend is leaving companies with a problem. On the British high street New Look and Mothercare are on the hunt for a new chief executive. Both have been sounding out candidates for months, with no success,” (p.5).

Yet shouldn’t we ask more questions as to why this ‘migration’ might be taking place. Is it possible that with the current economic crisis and the attention of the media our CEO’s and potential CEO’s have been found wanting, in that they don’t have the overall skills required to be successful in the role. The media have always been there, as have big city business analysts, and a good CEO knows how to handle and work with these ‘partners’ – as not working with them is similar to waving a red flag at a bull.

The fact that our current CEO’s might not like this ‘intrusion’ is an unsatisfactory response especially from the CEO of a public company. In fact I’d go as far as saying they should welcome the attention of the media and city analysts and skillfully ‘use’ this attention to the overall advantage of their organisation.

Exhaustion has overcome many top executives who have either bailed or taken leave to recover – Antonio Horta-Osario, Jeffrey Kindler and Joseph Lombard to name a few. But why didn’t these CEO’s have the right team around them to support them – a CEO with the right talent throughout the organisation should never become totally exhausted and will have as much enjoyment as this new bread of CEO’s who are jumping ship for the ‘smaller’ organisation.

A new report by Lauren Leader-Chive on Generation X, would argue that “the definition of what success looks like is changing for this generation. However much money is on offer, if the price is the sacrifice of home time and prized hobbies – it’s not worth it to them.”

Yet while we have our ‘elite’ feeling the pressure and bailing, we see in the same newspaper just 14 pages further on, an article by Jack Grimston and Rosie Kinchen entitled, ‘graduates pay £100 a day to serve as interns’, where they mention that “university leavers desperate for work experience are being charged up to £100 a day by companies offering them internships,” (p.19).

So here we have the two extremes, supposedly the UK’s elite, feeling the pressure and bailing out of the top jobs and at the other end, our potential future leaders working either unpaid, sometimes for months on end, to gain experience and improve their chances of getting a ‘good’ job, or some making the decision to pay to gain experience.

I wonder what some of these youngsters would like to tell the ‘stressed’ CEO’s about real pressure. What we need is to urgently improve our leadership development, so we develop a pool of ‘potential CEO talent’ – individuals who know how to develop the right team around them to ensure the job gets done.


Grimston, J and Kinchen, R. (2011). Graduates Pay £100 a Day to Serve as Interns. Sunday Times, 04.12.11, p.19.

Mills, E. (2011). City Elite Wheel Away from FTSE Highway. Sunday Times, 04.12.11, p.5.

No comments:

Post a Comment