A series of interviews with experienced players and experts in human resources and organizational development. Here we ask the questions to professional executive recruiter Anthony McAlister of Thorburn McAlister, a London-based consulting firm, with a worldwide client portfolio in the energy, financial and transportation sectors.
MCE :You’ve frequently commented that leaders who fail rarely get their top job back. How do you get back on top after a fall?
Anthony McAlister (AMc) : All our research shows that employers value a leader’s sector experience a great deal more than success. The rule is, if you fail publicly you must clearly explain what went wrong and what you have learned as a result. You must also balance the story with ALL the good things you achieved. However, you must be realistic about your age and length of tenure as it will effect your ability to climb back on the success ladder. You should always have a plan B and – critically - time limit your job search.
MCE : What’s the best route to being a successful leader, what should you study, what experience should you have?
AMc :Three words – operations, operations, operations. It’s best if you come from a general management route, running parts of the business with international experience and a track record of turnaround/profitability. CFO’s often step up but usually because it’s a safe/cheap/fast option and cost cutting is required. Unfortunately, as track records show, they are more likely to reduce shareholder value.
MCE : And the much discussed MBA ( from a good business school ), do you really need it, or should you spend your time and energy on something else??
AMc : An MBA is a useful learning experience, but will never be valued more highly than experience and success.
MCE : And the tendency for corporate leaders to suffer from the need to leave a legacy... what’s your advice on that – does it ever serve a useful purpose.?
AMc : Apart from the a handful of tech wizzkids I don’t really recognise this. CEOs of public companies are fixated on share price: nothing else matters to the board, the analysts, or the shareholders and, in fact, themselves. Controversially, emerging research is showing how little real affect CEOs have on their businesses. So, leaving on a high is perhaps, sadly, just a matter of both luck and judgement. The legacy that’s unfortunately left is a declining share price, profit warnings and restructuring.
MCE : Finally, you are noted for your encouragement of women in the C- suite. What’s the biggest obstacle to getting (and staying) on top?
AMc : Traditionally women have been attracted to project-based professions that allow for raising families like accountancy and law. This is why we see so many female NEDs (non-executive directors) coming from these backgrounds. However, this trend is changing and marketing and business development are now common NED profiles. But what do we mean by C- suite ?, look at most large public businesses and you will see female HR and Communication specialists prominent in the mix. But to get to CEO it always comes back to operational experience. Staying there is easy, (consistently good performance) – most effective women leaders don’t seem to have a problem with this.