Keys to success in your first CEO role


Subscribe to receive industry-focused thought leadership and insights, delivered right to your inbox Subscribe

Bedford Consulting Group Partner, Darren Raycroft discusses how to manage change and find the outsider’s perspective.


Change is and will continue to be the order of the day in todays business climate, and that can be intimidating for a first-time CEO. Any time a new chief executive is appointed — be they an internal promotion or an external hire, leading a successful company or an underperforming one — the status quo just won’t cut it.

Take David Kenny, the newly appointed CEO of Nielsen Holdings, who joined from IBM, where he led IBM’s Cognitive Solutions business as Senior Vice President and developed the organizations AI platform, IBM Watson, and their cloud platform. The media coverage paints the timing of his external appointment as vital while the company undergoes strategic review and consideration of a sale by the board, and whether Nielsen will continue to operate as a publicly traded company. Executive chairman, James Attwood, said, “decades of experience in Big Data, artificial intelligence, cloud technologies, and media make [Kenny] perfectly suited to lead Nielsen at this critical time.” Likewise, Maurice Tulloch’s new gig as CEO at insurer Aviva is painted as an opportunity to tap into the company’s “significant but untapped potential.”

No talk here of just playing to strengths and incremental change. It is onward, upward, or die.

Assessing and managing change is a key part of any new CEO’s job and both external and internal appointments face unique challenges. In this Q&A, Darren Raycroft, a Partner with the Bedford Consulting Group, shares his experience in helping first-time CEOs manage their first few critical months in a new role.


Based on your experience working with new CEO’s across a number of different industries, what key insights would you share with a first-time CEO who’s still in the early days of their new role?

Clarity is key. Not only about your priorities but what success will look like and what you will deliver. Identify the key relationships you need to foster inside and outside the organization. Take the time to identify what critical information you must gather to determine what’s working well, what needs to be addressed in the short/medium term and what requires urgent action.

It is also important to quickly assess if the current team is capable of taking the business where you want it to go? While also considering, is this actually a team that you have inherited or merely a collection of individuals? Often, CEOs will tell us that their one regret was not making their people decisions faster.


How does an internally promoted CEO (and now first time CEO) adopt the mindset needed to push their company forward?

The internal promotion has the benefit of knowing the intricacies and intimacies of the business. They should have a deeper understanding of both the formal and informal culture of the organization, which would inevitably take an outsider longer to assess… particularly the informal cultural piece. However, you also will inevitably have to manage the preconceived notions that the organization has about you as an “insider.” Compared to an external appointment, it is perhaps even more important to truly listen to the organization. You need to see and hear things as the CEO of the business — not just as a functional leader. This is a slight nuance, that makes all the difference.


What, in your opinion, is the one thing that a new CEO often overlooks?

Being a CEO can be a lonely place where you don’t have the luxury of the camaraderie you had as a peer member of the Executive Leadership Team. Seek out advice from other CEOs. Attend roundtable discussions. Join CEO peer groups, or secure an executive coach. This will help you to at least partially release the “pressure valve” that is inherent with any CEO role. It will also give you the much needed benefit of a sounding board. On this particular point, I have had CEOs tell me “I’m so busy, I don’t have the time for that.” To which I respond, “Do you want to be a good CEO or a great one? If it’s the latter, then make the time.”


How much change is too much, and how should a new CEO build priorities?

There is no hard-and-fast magical number here. CEOs are often overburdened with a lengthy list of strategic objectives and end up spread too thin across too many things. I encourage the CEO to focus on the three things you are going to deliver with excellence that will make the biggest impact on the organization. That’s a good place to start.


Darren Raycroft is a Partner with the Bedford Consulting Group. He brings more than a decade of executive search and strategic consulting experience, where his work has been focused on clients in the specialty areas of Life Sciences, Consumer Products and Manufacturing/Distribution in Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan. Darren lives in Toronto with his family, where he is sought out as a thought leader in the field of executive leadership; his articles have been published in the Globe & Mail and he has been quoted in Fast Company magazine.