Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gaining 20/20 Hindsight Today

Every CEO is uniquely responsible for driving change and innovation in a way that would not have been possible without them. They must take risks and push their companies outside of their current boundaries in order to stay ahead of the competition. Otherwise, why are they there?

Although every CEO must have confidence in their growth strategies, uncertainty is inevitable when pushing a company beyond its current operations. It may take two to five years to learn new lessons, find a sense of direction and understand what works and what doesn’t in these unforeseen situations. What if one could have that hindsight to support decision-making today instead of several years from now?

My organization built a platform to do just that. Five times a year we invite former CEOs of Fortune 1000s to transfer their knowledge and valuable hindsight to current CEOs of midsize to large businesses. The sitting CEOs run significant enterprises in a variety of industries including financial, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and retail. They all have revenues between $100 million and $2 billion, and many are experiencing double digit growth. You would recognize several household names.

Over a 2 hour breakfast, these 10-15 sitting CEOs have an opportunity to speak openly about their biggest real time challenge with their peers and 1-3 former CEOs. The former CEOs have been in their shoes and have taken a corporation from the $100 million to $2 billion range up to Fortune 1000 status.

On September 23rd, we will have the former Vice Chair of PaineWebber and the former CEO of Restaurant Associates. In the past, some of the former CEOs we have had are the Chairman of the NYSE, the former CEOs of Dun & Bradstreet, Chase Bank, Xerox, Harrah’s Hotels & Casinos and one of the first African American CEOs of a large company, Ben & Jerry’s.

I moderate these forums. It is a phenomenal experience to be part of conversations that positively impacts the future of many organizations.

Contrary to popular belief, CEOs are concerned about the health and growth of their businesses, which means protecting jobs. In the media, you see a lot of press about the greed of CEOs. Clearly there are self-serving CEOs who are more concerned with their own payoff. You can find that type in any profession. From my first-hand perspective, however, most CEOs are focused on developing empowering and functional enterprises. They want to produce valuable products and services for customers and of course they want to remain profitable.

These forums help them achieve that holistic growth in an increasingly risky global economy. They are especially beneficial to CEOs because it gives CEOs a chance to talk confidently about the issues they are facing and receive candid feedback and advice from their peers. The saying it’s lonely at the top becomes very real for CEOs. Moreover, the former CEO is able to ask the right questions and provide a perspective that current CEOs may not have considered. That hindsight is a tremendous advantage to help avoid the costly trial and error that comes with growing a company to new revenue milestones.

This forum is an outlook that is relevant to so many other aspects of our daily life. At some point, everyone’s career goes through a period of challenging uncertainty. How do you gain access to the hindsight you will gain in the future? I would love to hear how you do that. 

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