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"Attracting and Retaining “A” Players in an Economic Downturn"

Once again, a prominent former CEO headlined the recent Board of Veterans CEOs’ forum held on June 25th, 2010. Mike Connors (former CEO of AC Nielsen) led a highly charged discussion about Attracting, Hiring and Retaining “A” Players in today’s economy uncertainty.

Participants – an intimate group of current CEOs from midsize to large companies – had an opportunity to ask penetrating questions on various aspects of growth, from succession planning to building a board to support significant growth through M&A activity.

In the discussion, Mike Connors did not pull punches. He shared one of his biggest failures as a CEO. From there, the sitting CEOs became very open to honestly share the challenges they faced.

When Mike was asked about hiring CEOs in the past, he explained that during a recent acquisition, they hired a new CEO who had a great performance record. Additionally, the business he was given to run, was something that could stand on its own. So we expected at least a decent if not huge success from the decision. Everything was in the right place – the right responsibilities and tasks were divided between the right managers and other workers. But ultimately, the business failed to do well. And one of the primary reasons was the CEO’s inability to… judge himself and his own performance. This led to his failure in adjusting himself – his goals, the criteria for decisions, his role in the company and the way he managed his workers, to the changing economic environment. So later, we had to replace him. I myself was not initially sure about the reasons for the firm’s dim performance but soon saw that it was the leader who was not able to lead by example.

(Participant: Steve) – Were you initially looking for someone who had his own vision for the business or someone who could fundamentally implement the set strategies to make the business successful?

Mike – I believe that he did have a vision for the company as he had experienced decent success with his previous role as a CEO. From where I see, I feel that the problem is when a CEO does not want to change his style of leadership or he possibly cannot for whatever reasons. In this case, I think he did not want to change, even though there were enough indications and incentives for him to do so. (Participant Corey) – Isn’t there a possibility that sometimes the age and experience of a CEO can be in his way of changing his style of leadership? Furthermore, there can be other personal issues such as a firm belief in something that can make a CEO rather stanch about his views and habits.

Mike – In this particular case, the new CEO’s age was around 50 years. He was divorced and re-married. He had earned a huge amount of money in the past in addition to the generous incentives he was earning from his current position at our firm. Hence, he either did not recognize the changing environment around him or there was a lack of will on his part. And I feel that it was his lack of will that got in the way of him adjusting himself to the new ways and the new market.

(Participant John) – Sometimes the CEO can feel that people will start seeing his perspective and change their ways to align themselves with his practices and vision. Mike – Yes. So as employers in the new market, we have to be sure which is our Ateam. Whether we have set the right incentives in place for them. Know their vision and be fully engaged with them. The most important thing to know about people on your B-team is whether they are going to move up or down in the organizational structure. The concept that I observe in order to make my hiring decisions is that of the 5Cs. These are Character, Competence, Composure, Courage and Caring. After Mike explained the 5Cs, the questions ranged from succession planning to compensation for “A” players to effectively planning your exit strategy.

The next CEO roundtable discussion will take place on Friday, September 24th, from 7:30am-9:30am.

The Board Chairman, Ted Santos commented, "The quality of the roundtable discussions as well as the veteran CEOs continues to increase. This will allow us to significantly increase the caliber of our members. We think high caliber mid market CEOs are underserved and we look forward to bringing our roundtable discussions to CEOs throughout the US".

For more information on The Board of Veteran CEOs, please call 888 471-3660.