Cowen Partners Executive Search outlines some of the trends our experienced executive recruiters are seeing in not only in demand positions, but the hurtles both clients and candidates have to overcome to succeed.
“Decisions made today will need to be reconsidered within three months.”
– Greg Becker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank
In the post-pandemic world, it’s become more important than ever to hire executives who are able to adapt to changes in the business environment quickly.
Those who have the ability to anticipate challenges and adopt strategies to overcome them are in the best position to find new opportunities, scale their business, and respond to threats.
With that being said, certain trends are occurring in executive search for C-Suite positions, including:
Executives in these positions need to overcome adversity and be proactive in the business.
Before the pandemic, CEOs were mainly hired based on their ability to get things done. In fact, pre-pandemic CEOs generally:
In larger corporations, you might never have seen your CEO unless they happened to be giving a company meeting, such as a town hall. You’d receive emails from them on various business objectives that were sent to all employees.
Post-pandemic CEOs have seen their duties evolve. Instead of relying on prior knowledge obtained from experience, companies need a CEO who possesses specific traits. A few traits that forward-thinking businesses are looking for include:
Here’s a closer look at each of these CEO traits and how they help modern CEOs achieve success, regardless of the specific industry or organization in which they operate.
Foresight is the ability to envision the various outcomes associated with a business decision. It’s a behavioral mindset that requires the ability to look at one decision and perceive the potential consequences of taking action.
Before an important decision is made, the CEO will need to consider how it will affect all of the company’s stakeholders, including shareholders, customers, and employees.
CEOs of large companies may oversee significant amounts of money. Fortune 500 companies often have billions of dollars in revenue.
Their CEOs must analyze the company’s direction and make sure to maintain and grow its overall performance. Part of succeeding is having the ability to anticipate future roadblocks and prepare for them immediately, thus protecting the business.
Ensuring proper foresight requires staying abreast of developments in the business environment. This attentiveness means keeping an eye on the news, staying in touch with major clients, and monitoring changes that occur that may affect the company.
One focus that the pandemic has highlighted is the requirement to be adaptable to changing needs of the business. When most of the world was put on lockdown, companies were forced to move online or lose their revenue.
Those that didn’t have the tools in place to do so quickly found themselves in a sandpit of problems. They had to find ways to allow their employees to connect through video meetings and access the tools they needed to perform their job from home.
Companies that already had a backup plan in place for remote work experienced a more seamless transition. While there were bumps in the road, they were able to find nimble footing and be proactive in finding solutions.
Closely related to foresight, adaptability allows you to react quickly to the changing environment. You must be able to anticipate what you need to conform to change and perceive the changes in a positive light.
If you can’t trust someone to handle their job, they aren’t reliable. A reliable CEO is someone who is trustworthy and can be counted on in difficult situations. They don’t go on vacation when the business is in flux. Instead, they’re determined to get through the situation and can design strategies that promote the success of the company.
A reliable CEO is transparent with their employees. When they make a decision, they explain their reasoning to their team members and other stakeholders. They may not always make the right decisions, but they use the information they have and go through a thorough decision-making process when making a choice.
A CEO in today’s business environment is aware that they don’t know everything. Each employee has various talents that they bring to the business. A good CEO is able to discern the talents of each team member and use them to bring value to the business.
Before a significant business decision is made, a CEO should ask for input from their colleagues. An open discussion should occur, allowing everyone who has information that can help form the decision to provide insight.
However, the CEO should only seek insight from those who are truly competent and have their ear to the pulse of the business and its operating climate.
Clients are asking us for dynamic, forward looking, “modern CFOs”. Technology has driven significant changes to the accounting and finance functions of businesses. Rather than waiting for a business to close the accounting period in order to understand how it has performed financially, modern CFOs are expected to have an understanding of key financial indicators throughout the entire month, sometimes daily.
The processes used for accounting and finance have significantly improved over the past decade. Many companies have adopted a practice of continuous accounting. This approach essentially means that all transactions are recorded as they occur, with only minor accruals made at month-end.
Continuous accounting allows CFOs to know immediately when a customer is overdue on their payments or when available cash is running low. When combined with heavy reporting tools, such as key productivity indicators and dashboard reporting, CFOs can adapt quickly to changes in the business environment.
Traits to look for in a CFO in today’s hiring environment include:
The quality of resilience involves being able to overcome setbacks. Rather than feel overwhelmed, you adapt to changes and seek to surmount them.
This resilience is a key characteristic for a CFO to have, especially in a world with lots of competition. A good CFO will recognize that change is inevitable and how you react to that defines your success.
When a CFO comes on board with a company, there is typically a lot of pressure from all angles, including employees, shareholders, and customers. A CFO must take all of this pressure in stride and handle the challenges each day.
You can’t give direction to your accounting and finance team if you don’t have an understanding of financial principles and accounting. Having well-rounded financial expertise in a number of key areas is extremely important for a CFO.
Most CFOs come to their position after experience in public accounting, general controllership, and FP&A. They have an understanding of financial reporting and can ask strategic questions designed to improve business performance and ensure accurate books.
Like CEOs, CFOs must have the ability to anticipate things to come. Since they are close to the financials, they are in a good place to spot significant changes in revenue and expenses. They can use this information to make strategic recommendations that influence the course of the business.
CFOs should stay on top of their FP&A team to ensure that they have the most accurate forecasts available to make decisions. They should be a prominent player in the development of the annual budget and seek advice from all sides of the business to ensure that all anticipated expenses are accounted for.
CMO turnover is at an all time high and sales and marketing are more intertwined than ever. Marketing has changed; while traditional methods of attracting new customers were largely done in person, through events, and advertising via publications and the media, the tide has turned.
CMOs and CROs are tasked with the marketing and revenue activities of the company. Their job is to oversee sales and attract and retain new customers.
It is now virtually unheard of for a company to have no digital media presence. As most people have turned to their smartphones to obtain the news of the day, research questions that they have, and communicate with friends, digital marketing has developed unparalleled importance.
However, digital marketing is constantly changing. Ads that attract new customers may not work from one quarter to the next. Thus, the marketing team must retain their creativity and adapt to new opportunities to gain customers.
Characteristics of a talented CMO include:
Here’s more on each of these CMO characteristics.
Marketing executives need to be creative. They are overseeing the marketing activities of the company, and if they don’t have strategies in place to attract new customers, the company runs the risk of losing revenue to other, more proactive companies.
Keeping an eye on changes to the advertising environment is one key to success in the CMO job. When hiring their marketing team, they’ll want to look for people who are knowledgeable of new marketing and advertising techniques.
One key trait of a good CMO is a solid knowledge of the business. They should understand each product and service offered, as well as how each can help potential clients. A CMO can’t attract new customers if they don’t know what their company sells.
When hiring a CMO who is new to the company, seek to find one who has experience in a similar company. This experience gives them the basis for understanding how the products or services function.
If the company is highly technical, it’s important to give CMOs and their teams the training they need to be able to accurately describe how products or services work, as well as answer questions from potential clients.
While analysis is usually associated with accounting and finance, it plays a role in marketing as well. As soon as a new marketing strategy is deployed, an experienced CMO or CRO will have processes in place to assess its performance.
While it can take a few weeks to establish whether a new strategy is successful or not, the CMO should delegate the task of analyzing performance to knowledgeable team members.
The analysis isn’t limited to new advertising mediums. A CMO should also stay on top of customer satisfaction levels to ensure that the clients are retained and feel content with the products or services that they purchase. If the CMO sees that customers are leaving, they should find out why and share the information with relevant colleagues.
Companies are more digital than ever and cybersecurity is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. The CTO or CIO is responsible for the technological aspects of the business. For companies that offer services or products that are unrelated to tech, the CTO is generally responsible for purchasing and maintaining software that provides the most support for the business. These executives are also responsible for the information security of the company.
In businesses that operate in the tech sector, IT executives have dual responsibilities. They ensure the IT support for the company, but they also oversee the development of new tech services and products. Thus, they must have an understanding of programming as well as IT security and purchasing.
Abilities to look for when hiring a new CTO or CIO include:
The CIO and CTO roles may sound similar at face-value, but they clearly serve very different purposes. Both executive-level positions can bring immense value to a business, but your company may need one more than the other right now.
When looking to hire a CIO or CTO, ask whether you need to enhance technology within the company or for your customers first. If you need to focus on external products and services while driving innovation, then consider hiring a CTO. If you need to improve internal processes and enhance productivity, then hire a CIO.
Large companies would benefit from having both roles on staff. A CIO and CTO both contribute to company growth and both can positively impact revenue. If your business can afford it, these two c-suite positions have the potential to massively enhance your business by updating processes with the latest technology trends.
If you’re going to lead the tech team, you’d better know what you’re doing. You need to be abreast of new technology and know how to use it. Computer coding and programming change rapidly, and someone who doesn’t know their stuff — or know how to direct their team to find solutions — is not likely to be respected.
Software developers and IT professionals are known for their technical prowess, and they will quickly realize when their superior doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
It’s easy for people who work in IT to get bogged down in the features of various software and believe that it’s the best solution for a certain dilemma faced by a department. However, a CTO should seek input from the department they are purchasing software for.
As an example, if the CTO is tasked with purchasing a new accounting solution, they want input from the accounting and finance departments to determine what their needs are. Software shouldn’t simply be purchased because it’s the newest piece of technology on the block — it should fit the requirements of the company.
Hiring today’s executives is one of the most important parts of business strategy. The people chosen to lead often determine whether a company will succeed or fail. Ensuring that you have the proper people in place with the right set of abilities can go a long way toward maximizing business performance.
As leaders among the nation’s best executive recruiters, we have experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000 companies or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion.
Successful placements span the entire C-Suite – CEO, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, CHRO, CMO, and include vice president sales and marketing, general counsel, and other director-level leadership roles.
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