Is it ‘Mission Impossible’ to hire your next CEO?

In a recent pitch process for a CEO assignment, my colleagues and I were posed this very question by an accomplished Chairman looking to mitigate the risks associated with appointing a new leader to the helm of his high-profile professional sports team. Clearly, such a role always comes with its challenges, but what became apparent were the myriad of pressures now being faced by the business. These included protection of the legacy of yesterday, satisfying the customer demands of today, and unlocking the ever complex technology enabled opportunities of tomorrow. Visibly, a balance must be sought whilst ensuring progression is achieved, and this now requires a proactive and curious mindset to explore talent pools from outside of the traditional goldfish bowl.

This curiosity to explore industry executives from beyond the well-trodden ground occupied by their competitor-set continues to gather momentum at a pace. Recent apparent ‘off-piste’ CEO appointments at The Jockey Club, The Premier League, and Premiership Rugby would have, in years gone by, been greeted with a sharp inhalation of breath and mutterings of discontent. But today they are rightly heralded as a step towards a brave new world where performance on the track, pitch or course is only one aspect of the ultimate success of a brand. Of course, as die-hard fans, we will always hold dear our childhood allegiances irrespective of performance or finishing position and if the brand resonates in the market place, it’s merely considered a bonus. However, it is the new kids on the block whose IP is born out of video game characters, curated content and social following who are coming up the rails by creating a momentum around brand currency which resonates with all demographics via all channels. The seemingly insatiable customer appetite for never seen before content has created a new wave of industries, never mind brands, and it is indeed these conundrums that a CEO in an entertainment business now faces.

Traditionally problems, irrespective of shape and size, have come with a blue-print solution from which a CEO has been able to draw conclusion for the best way forward. Due to the relative infancy of these technology enabled challenges, previously proven CEOs are beginning to feel unsure of their genuine relevance at the top table…and the imposter syndrome ignites. Intuitive boards are quick to pick up on any sign of insecurities, which if aligned with under-performance through a plethora of new data led KPIs, results in a quick exit stage left of the now bemused CEO. At which point a search ensues for the successor to the throne in the faint hope that within a host of converging industry verticals there is one unique individual who has the silver bullet to the problems of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

So, the answer to the original question posed is a no; it is absolutely possible to secure a CEO who can deliver on all fronts being faced by a customer acquisitive business. The trick, is finding an individual who recognises which silver bullets they have in their armoury and supporting them with others who fill the gaps. No one has successfully led a business single handedly without hiring the specialists around them to deliver on their vision. From Bill Gates to Carolyn McCall, from Alex Ferguson to Eddie Jones, (nearly) all have sought an incredible depth of expertise around them to realise the success that they all ultimately achieved. I wish Darren Childs (Premiership Rugby), Delia Bushell (The Jockey Club)  and David Pemsel (Premier League) all the very best in their new roles but would suggest that all of them will be immediately looking at the threats of tomorrow and negating them with emerging talent from those that have trodden that path before. It’s never easy hiring a leader, but it’s certainly not impossible.

About the Author

Mark Moreau
T: +44 (0)207 092 6963

Mark Moreau is a Partner at SRI, based in London. Mark specialises in advising business at the intersection of the converging worlds of media, content, technology and sport. Over the last 17 years Mark has developed a global network of executives capable of unlocking the commercial potential that consumer technology now allows.