Keeping it fresh

If you’re a senior manager with aspirations to lead a company, you’d do well to look beyond the bounds of your industry. Boards are looking for CEOs in unexpected places, convinced that development potential and new perspectives can be just as important – or more so – than industry experience.

Recently I witnessed this in a multi-format retail company. An “innovator” group on the board wanted a CEO from outside who could shake up the business and reinvent the customer experience. They won the argument against the “traditionalists” who sought a seasoned industry insider. The innovators pointed to the transformation underway in the sector, driven by the e-commerce revolution and the rapid rise of a social network-savvy, demanding consumer class. The retail space of the future would be less about functional shopping and more about social interaction, showcasing and fun.

In this new era, these board members argued, it made more sense to hire a CEO from the arts and entertainment world – someone who had run a film studio, art gallery or amusement park, for example. The key would be true passion for bringing delight to customers and the capacity to engage and excite the whole organisation in creating the world’s greatest customer experience.

No doubt there are risks involved in taking on a leadership role in an industry that’s new to you. To mitigate these, you need to be ready to embark on an accelerated journey of development and integration – even before your first day. Just as important, you’ll need to make sure your top team contains the right mix of new thinking and hands-on operational experience.

This article is republished with kind permission of the South China Morning Post where Catherine Zhu is a regular contributor.

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