If the start of an economic recovery is in sight, as rising property prices and more positive economic forecasts seem to indicate, what type of executive and skill sets will leaders be looking for in the c-suite in order to take advantage of the upturn? Will economic growth spark a recruitment drive at a senior level or merely a reorganisation of the board's priorities?

Most leaders agree that this is a time which plays to experienced management, executives who have worked through previous recessions and gained the knowledge to make the right decisions as and when business opportunities begin to arise. But CEOs and Chairmen should be careful to maintain a balance when it comes to board structure. As Paul Parrish, Managing Director, Fijitsu Technology Solutions Division UK, explains: "I think it's important to get a good mix of experience and youthfulness. It is critical to ensure the board can manage through the tough times we are experiencing at the moment, but also have the energy and enthusiasm to grow the business when the green shoots of recovery appear."

It's not about focusing on or prioritising certain roles within the c-suite despite the fact that areas like financial risk have taken a significant step up the priorities ladder as a consequence of the economic crisis. As Brendan Hynes, CEO, Nichols plc, points out: "It is inevitable that we will see more regulation and risk management roles, particularly in the financial sector, and I believe we will see more risk averse non-executive directors in the future with an eye on the risks to their own personal brand."

In other words, all executives will be forced to address the challenges of a changed business environment and how it impacts the executive team.

Things like risk are the responsibility of all c-suite executives and leaders will be looking for individuals with the capability of taking on these issues and translating them into their own role. Brendan explains: "It's not really about beefing up individual functions, it's more about making sure that the team has sufficient experience and skills managing in a downturn, being able to control costs and investments and responding to changing consumer behaviour for example. I am very wary of optimistic or pure top-line driven recovery plans. Unfortunately, there is a layer of senior and middle management who have no direct experience of managing in this type of environment and will need to be replaced."

For other leaders, it is about looking for a particular style of working from their executive team. Now more than ever, companies need a senior team that can drive tangible business productivity, as Peter Blezard, CEO, Plant Impact plc says, "A good CFO is vital but across the c-suite, I am looking for leaders with the vision and ability to create value for the business. Most importantly, I will be looking for executives that can build effective relationships, be it with commercial partners, Government or NGOs.This, in my opinion, will be critical to how well the business performs."

How leaders structure their teams and what type of individuals they are looking to recruit will also depend on the position of the business. As Mark Nichols, Managing Director, Acuitas, explains: "Almost all businesses are currently under stress and consequently it is imperative to have a significant focus by all chief officers on improving fixed and variable costs, and financing conditions. However, for those which have good market share and are well managed, there also needs to be a balance in preparing for recovery which may be both organic and inorganic in terms of opportunity. For those who find themselves not as well, the focus may well be towards maximising shareholder value in the short term by improving their condition and therefore attractiveness to potential buyers." 

To help you with the challenges of leadership and board structure in the downturn, we have a number of Insights available on Criticaleye. The most recent CEO Breakfast Write-up is now online offering the latest thinking for leaders on everything from executive incentives to economic recovery. HR Consultancy Hewitt Associates offers a succint and straightforward checklist of what you should be thinking about at the current time in Leading in an Economic Downturn. Also see our five-minute, 'eye to eye' filmed interviews with leading CEOs and Chairmen to find out what challenges other leaders are facing in the current climate.

Matthew Blagg, CEO, Criticaleye