What Sets Enterprise CEOs Apart From Startup CEOs? - CEO Search

      What Sets Enterprise CEOs Apart From Startup CEOs?

      What makes a good CEO? The answer to that depends on the type of business you’re running. While there are significant areas of overlap, enterprise CEOs must lead and strategize in a way that’s much different from startup CEOs.

      If you’re beginning to search for the right CEO for your company, it can be helpful to understand some of the key attributes found in enterprise and startup CEOs as well as some of the attributes they share.

      What Makes a Great Enterprise CEO?

      When you hire someone as an enterprise CEO, they’ll be stepping into a relatively stable environment. They generally won’t need to make any drastic changes. Instead, a new enterprise CEO is usually hired on to continue a company’s focus on growth. Here are some of the most important attributes for a new enterprise CEO to have:

      Excellent Decision-Making Skills

      Enterprises might be relatively stable, but they still require executives to make regular decisions. A strong enterprise CEO has the ability to confidently make decisions. However, those decisions also must be based on a strong understanding of market dynamics and the company’s overall situation.

      The Ability to Delegate Tasks

      Part of being a strong leader is knowing what tasks to focus on (and which ones to delegate). A good enterprise CEO recognizes the fact that they need to dedicate most of their time and energy to higher-level tasks central to company growth. They can then ensure other tasks get done by delegating them to the appropriate individuals or teams.

      The Ability to Report on a Large Scale

      An enterprise CEO isn’t responsible for generating every single report. However, they must have the ability to interpret vast amounts of data and present it in a way that connects with shareholders (and sometimes the general public). It’s a little like storytelling. 

      For example, a CEO can look at several financial reports and use them to create a company narrative. To a layperson, the reports might be a confusing jumble of numbers. But a good CEO can explain that those numbers show that the company had a rocky couple of years before reaching record profits this year.

      Big-Picture Strategy Skills

      CEOs don’t only need to manage what goes on day after day. They are also responsible for creating long-term strategies for success. The right enterprise CEO will have experience creating (and following through on) detailed business strategies.

      What Makes a Great Startup CEO?

      The environment of a startup is completely different from that of an enterprise. Startups are high-risk, fast-paced, and largely dependent on innovation, and they also tend to have minimal infrastructure in place. According to some estimates, about 90% of startups fail.

      Choosing the right CEO is a critical part of making sure your company succeeds. Here are some of the qualities that make a great startup CEO.

      Familiarity With Technology

      Virtually all startups are somehow connected to emerging technologies. Whether your startup is directly related to new technology (like a SaaS company) or you just use technology in the course of daily operations, having a CEO who is knowledgeable about tech (but still willing to learn) is crucial. 

      A High Risk Tolerance

      In general, the CEO of a startup needs to make bolder, riskier decisions than enterprise CEOs. While you certainly don’t want someone reckless heading up your company, you also don’t want someone who plays things too safe.


      No matter how skilled a startup’s CEO is, they’re bound to run into some serious setbacks. A good startup CEO isn’t afraid to face uncertainty. If they do face a setback, they’re able to learn from it and bounce back.

      A Hands-On Approach

      In an enterprise company, there are clear lines between the role of the CEO and other executives. That’s not the case with a startup CEO. In the beginning, a CEO might need to perform duties outside the scope of the traditional job description. 

      For example, if the company doesn’t have the budget to hire a CFO yet, the CEO might effectively function as both CEO and CFO.

      What Qualities Do Enterprise and Startup CEOs Have in Common?

      As you’ve seen, the roles of enterprise CEO and startup CEO demand different characteristics. However, there are some attributes that you want to find in a CEO regardless of whether your company is a startup or an enterprise. 

      Natural Leadership

      When your company’s future is at stake, you don’t just want someone who graduated from a top business school — you want someone who was born with the inclination to lead. Natural leaders have a particular charisma that makes people want to work with them.

      Emotional Intelligence

      CEOs must be able to process a variety of metrics with ease. However, they also must be able to understand and relate to people. 

      Communication Skills

      For a CEO, communication is a huge part of the job. A CEO of any type of company must be able to communicate with other executives, lower-level employees, shareholders, and venture capitalists. In many ways, your CEO is the face of your company, so great communication is essential.

      A Sense of Integrity

      When selecting a CEO, it’s also wise to choose someone who is trustworthy and acts with integrity. If your company’s main executive behaves in an unethical manner, you’ll have trouble attracting and retaining top-level talent. You also may have trouble securing investors or winning the confidence of shareholders.

      When you have an honest and ethical CEO, their actions set the tone for the rest of the workplace. For most people, this means that your company is somewhere they’d like to work.

      Before You Search, Know What You’re Looking For

      If you’re fielding applications for a CEO role (or really, any C-suite role), you’ll likely need to choose between many highly qualified applicants. 

      To make the hiring process faster and easier, consider creating a list of the attributes you want your new company leader to have. When you focus on your ideal traits for a CEO, the hiring process becomes more effective.

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