International · 16. März 2021

CEOs – generalist or specialized?

Anforderungen an Führungskräfte Foto: Agilium worldwide

When choosing a new CEO, board members and shareholders are more than conscious that the impact of their choice can range anywhere between adding immense value to the company and having an adverse effect on profitability and corporate climate. Executive search consultants are there to help. As experts in finding the best candidates for C-roles and supporting both candidates and clients alike, they offer suggestions and opinions on evaluation and selection criteria.

In a recent survey, Agilium Worldwide asked its member firms in 27 countries and on five continents about their experience with CEO hiring trends. Reflecting on the type of profile that candidates would need to have, one question asked whether:

“companies in your country preferred a “generalist” profile (broad experience gained from working in different sectors, different roles and various types of companies) or a “specialized” profile (deep experience related to the job at hand, gained from working in a similar sector, previous roles and type of company)”

The majority stated that a specialist profile was most often preferred in their country, but that this sometimes depended on the future strategy of the company, and also the type of company. For example, the CEO of a pharma/biotech company would preferably have deep, specialized experience, whereas a broader, more generalist profile would better fit the role of the CEO of a holding company.

It is worth noting that generalist CEOs are more likely to inspire and create much needed, transformative innovation than are specialist CEOs. Innovation is key to competitive advantage. But also risky and can result in either huge rewards, or failure and loss of job. Generalist CEOs these are transferable to another firm or industry should the worst case occur. So they are fundamentally not afraid of making mistakes. They can confidently think out-of-the-box and form the foundations of a new corporate culture. Specialist CEOs have to tread more cautiously. Their skills and competencies tend to be more technical and harder to transfer to other industries. Avoiding mistakes is therefore imperative and they are usually not as fearless in taking risks in cultures where there is low tolerance for failure. Considering this, we realize there may be a relationship between successful innovation and tolerating mistakes and failure.

Verfasst von: Dr. Matthias Rode

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