Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Rookie CEO vs. Seasoned Veteran CEO

Many of my closest friends know I have been working on a book for a while now. The topic is about this title more or less. I'd like to have an open discussion here since most of us in technology fields have experience with both types of newly hired/recruited CEOs of their company. In my case, I worked for 7 rookie CEOs in a row at the VP level so am quite qualified to write on this topic. Wait until you hear some of the stories as I bet many of you will recognize these rookies from somewhere in their past.

Not all rookie CEOs are created equal nor are seasoned CEOs. Let's look at some of the differences:


- Unproven at the CEO level, typically have been VP of Sales, VP of Marketing, or VP of Product Management, VP/GM of a business unit or COO
- Type 'A' personalities
- Will display their newly acquired power around the senior leadership table
- Many will eliminate or encourage direct reports to leave who are a threat to them or their vision rather than work at bringing them onto the team
- Look for lower level "talkers" in the company who tell all inside 'goings on' then spit them out once they get the inside landscape
- Often bring friends in to their new company at different levels
- Bring processes to their new company from their old company that might be proprietary as a short cut
- Usually extremely bright, often will make fast decisions without the facts to impress the board

Seasoned CEO

- There are at least two kinds: (1) moving targets: those who have totally screwed up a company and then left before being removed by the board - we call this category the "Teflon CEO" (2) Totally successful at team and company building who have successfully exited and have made money for investors and themselves.
- Typically will hire their most trusted VPs from previous lives (can be multiple companies). It matters little how they move incumbents out and move in their trusted team.
- Typically refer to their past and how successful their companies were because of their decisions

I have been involved in both types of organizational changes. I have been hired and separated by the new CEO/business unit leader. Sometimes it does not happen day one but it eventually may happen. Of course there are exceptions to the rule. I have remained friends with some of the more honest and trustworthy CEOs and can use them as references. Others not so much. The take-away is to be prepared to be replaced if your company gets a new CEO and they or their trusted new execs choose to replace you. Even if you have an employment contract, they will spend extra money to install their trusted team ASAP. I have seen from both types the previous cultures take over. Regions of the country are not exceptions. It works this way from Silicon Valley to the east coast. 

Have you seen some interesting scenarios? I might include your example in my book if your experience is really unique and falls under the mantra, "You can't make this stuff up!"!