- Mike Athas
You are convinced you qualify for a CEO position. At least one executive recruiter and career transition specialist has reservations. (That would be me). Are you ready and should you go for it, or should you take his advice and seek a more incremental step? Answer below.
Imagine you’re a VP at a very large health care provider. You’re not a Senior VP, just a VP, but you have Profit and Loss responsibility for a division that, to the employer, is not a major part of their business. That’s two considerations already to the trained observer.
Beyond that, you agree with this expert, who is giving you a free consultation, that it’s probably not fruitful to work toward a promotion within that company, and that after well over 15 years, it’s time to pack it in and seek greener pastures.
Some other details are shared with the executive recruiter and transition specialist who develops these insights through the artful use of questioning you: you have not hired and fired more than perhaps a handful of people, at best, you don’t have a mentor who has helped you through the years, there is no executive within that company, or any other company, for that matter, who has taken a personal interest in your career advancement, there’s no successful executive whom you really admire or whose success you try to emulate, you’re not connected with any VCs or investors, and there are no books that you read, particularly management books or books by successful executives.
On the plus side, you have managed successfully a handful of software development projects in house for your health care employer, your applications have improved efficiency, and you have had Profit and Loss responsibility for your operation. You appear to have increased profits in your department. You have demonstrated an ability to function within a very large organization, you have been adept at surviving by carving out a niche to support within that environment, and you have been earning $200 k annually for a number of your years there. And you do hold yourself in high regard. That’s not all bad. Finally, you have perhaps 20 total years in the health care industry.
You now want out, and have three options, inclusive of purchasing a business, doing something entirely unrelated and pursuing a CEO role. So, back to the question, do you go all in toward your CEO goal now, or do you take on a more incremental role, where, hopefully, you will, after a reasonable amount of time, enjoy an inside track toward that CEO role?
My view is that competition is keen. This executive will discover he may not stack up that well with other CEO candidates, particularly those who have had a clear role with accountability in a start up environment where results are clear. Also, all the other noted items in the third paragraph are simply not there with most other top candidates whom the executive recruiter has known over his multi decade experience base.
Another factor is the desire on the part of many employers to promote from within. It’s demoralizing to the existing employees if they are not at least considered for advancement opportunities. Companies hire externally all the time, but a CEO would frequently come from a direct competitor or have some other compelling attraction points to be offered that role.
A new company to you may mean a new industry, with new people, new markets, new competitors, new processes, and new dynamics. That’s a lot of “news”. As a VC, would you place anyone in that critical leadership role who, on Day One, brings these questions to the equation? Most professionals try to limit the variables and unknowns.
The executive rejected a scenario I presented wherein he would be valued as CEO material for an emerging company, perhaps not adequately to his liking or aligned with his prior “comfort zone” in health care, but not CEO on Day One. A 12 to 24 month period would allow him to gain relevant commercial experience prior to assuming that CEO role.
Gerald is, and I quote, “sick and tired of being told the same thing, pay your dues over a few more years, then you’ll get that CEO job”. I wished him well. I also declined to engage with him to complete an executive assessment, as I simply lacked faith in his ability to benefit from the results since his mind really was set.
Who is right? Whose direction is more realistic? Where’s the trick? The hiring manager who ultimately decides whether to extend an offer is “right”. I certainly believe my view, as a professional executive recruiter is more realistic. Gerald is going his own way. It’s really not for me to decide, and I certainly do not hold anyone back. It’s really not for Gerald to decide because he is a candidate in competition with other candidates. It’s really up to the hiring entity to decide. I base my recommendations on many years of experience, and in many ways, I “lose” my own judgement to the filters of my clients, the hiring entities. After all, they call the shots. They make the ultimate decisions, no one else. I respect that.What do you think?
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