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No room for error: Streamlining a CEO’s transition into a new role

Amid the global crisis that has developed over the last few weeks, CEOs and senior management teams have been hitting the headlines as they face making difficult decisions about their strategy, workforce and future. Perhaps, even more than usual, this has highlighted how important the role of the CEO really is, making impactful decisions that will go on to define the future of the business. 

Becoming a new CEO is a particularly challenging and delicate process at any time, particularly if they are a less experienced or external hire. It’s important that they fit the ethos and culture of the company, but also that they can quickly understand and influence business performance so that they can make the best decisions for the company, particularly in times of crisis. So, in this turbulent and volatile period, how can the transition for a new CEO be made easier?

Adjusting strategic goals

Despite the current challenges, this situation is one that new CEOs, such as Rachel Osbourne at Ted Baker, will be viewing as a chance to prove themselves and show how they can make a positive mark on the direction of the company. But any new CEO will need to build their own confidence, and this means knowing where the opportunities, risks and issues are in the business. To do that, they need to quickly understand the performance trends of the business by client, product or service, region and function, all in the context of the market. This is where financial analytics technology can offer a huge head start.

Using technology, data from across the business can be consolidated, analysed and made much more easily accessible. This makes it much easier for an incoming CEO to make objective comparisons between past and current performance, regardless of length of service, or company relevant experience. 

The importance of having a firm understanding of the business was made no clearer than when two months ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced Bob Chapek as his successor. Disney has set numerous box office records under Iger’s leadership, such as becoming the first studio to surpass $10bn in revenue in a year. Iger also ensured huge success by overseeing the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. While Bob Chapek has been at Disney for nearly thirty years and has overseen several departments, many industry experts were shocked by this choice due to his lack of wider experience and the fact that he is taking over in a period of instability, with the Fox acquisition said to be losing Disney billions of dollars.  

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This is a great example of how important a factor having a firm understanding of the business performance is to a new CEO – they need an oversight into the successful and unsuccessful decisions so they can plan for future decisions. Without this data, new CEOs, such as Bob Chapek, will be coming into the role blind, and will struggle to plan for any new situations that may arise – particularly in periods of difficulty or weaker company performance.

Agility and adaptability are key differentiators in times of greater uncertainty. While adaptability refers to the mindset of an individual, financial analytics tools can offer decision-makers increased agility. The technology exists today to support decisions, based on ever-changing internal or external scenarios.  By creating a top down business model, management teams can quickly see the impact of changes to business performance and/or restructuring on financial outcomes, particularly with cash flow in mind – the most important metric in managing risk – and can then make these informed decisions in real-time in the boardroom. Some of the best businesses out there have this at the core of their strategic decision-making.

Great companies think ahead and use technology to their advantage in this regard. Unilever, for example, use a model which allows them to gauge the impact of future changes to demand across their entire product portfolio and regions. This allows them to form better strategies and adapt   quicker in the event of change. Thomson Reuters have recently used analytics technology to track the real time impact on the spread of Covid-19 on their sales. Applied well, analytics gives new and existing management teams incredible insight and confidence in decisions.

Future proofing

The ability to analyse ‘what-if’ scenarios based on various performance factors, or to test the impact of a divestment or acquisition in the existing product portfolio, is absolutely key if the new CEO is to successfully create a new strategy for the business.

Inevitably, during crises like the one we’re in the midst of now, companies will be readjusting their strategic goals. As part of this, companies looking to position themselves for future success should be running scenario modelling, based on differing operating levels over the next quarter, 12 months and three years. These sorts of black swan events are by their nature near impossible to predict, making planning and mitigating them even harder. Any new CEO needs this information on hand quickly if they are going to make sound business decisions, especially in times of uncertainty.

 

Nothing lasts forever, so when a CEO decides to leave their role, companies and leadership teams must ensure they have prepared ahead of time to minimise long-term disruption to the business. While financial analytics tools cannot solve all problems and the new CEO will have to earn the respect of the business in their own right, they certainly help to smooth the process. In times like these it could also be the difference between making choices that ensure the survival of a business, or losing it altogether. 


Simon Bittlestone, CEO of Metapraxis

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