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First-time CEOs

Being a CEO for the first time presents many challenges, especially in the current climate. The importance of creating a strong and empowering culture, effective management of the board and shareholders and how to pursue the right strategy are all issues that new leaders are facing.  

The first few months at the helm are critical. As Rakesh Patel, Chief Executive Officer for Goldshield, says, "It is vital to establish leadership style. With market conditions being unpredictable, it is also extremely important to manage expectations and have an effective communications strategy in place to deal with stakeholders".

These sentiments are reiterated by Brendan Hynes, CEO for Nichols plc, who says, "The first 100 days are critical in terms of setting out the strategic agenda and setting the expectation of stakeholders. The current economic climate makes this even more of a focus, especially in a quoted company environment. Having done this, be prepared to be head 'cheerleader', it's all about motivating the team behind your vision".

Leaders are clearly facing uncertainty in the current market, which is why pursuing policies that drive the strategic agenda is more important than ever before. For a first-time CEO, it can be difficult to know where their focus should be. Stephen Taylor, CEO for Qype offers this advice, "As Ben Verwaayen excellently summarised, the core job of the CEO is setting 'tone', 'people' and 'agenda'. Right now I think that setting the correct tone is where CEOs can have the most immediate impact. Consumers, employees and suppliers are all nervous and uncertain of what lies ahead. No one wants false, cheery optimism, but in difficult times we all want leaders who exude confidence and focus".

Managing relationships with board members is key to ensuring that new CEOs can pursue their strategy and enlist the support they need to push it forward. A greater focus on the CFO is important to this approach. Martin Balaam, CEO for Redstone plc explains why CEOs need clarity on the financial side of their business more than ever: "If you have bank debt or rely on a facility ensure that you fully understand how the covenants work from your CFO. If things look as if they may become tight, speak to your bank sooner rather than later, it makes it look like you are in control".

Taking control of the business, especially in a recession, is surely the key message for leaders coming into the role for the first time. CEOs that make strong decisions to drive growth in this environment will undoubtably emerge stronger when the upturn comes. Cutting costs out of the business is vital and Don Elgie, CEO for Creston, offers this advice: "Cut overheads in line with revenue at the beginning of the financial year. Don't live in hope that things will get better as this will simply mean you have to cut again later in the year if things don't improve. This is a lot more damaging to staff morale than one deep cut early on".

First-time CEOs Insights

We've got some fantastic thought-leadership for leaders including the latest Write-up from our monthly CEO breakfast, CEO Breakfast - February 2009 and, to help navigate the risks that leaders are facing in a turbulent economy, The 2009 Ernst & Young Business Risk Report - The Top 10 Risks for Global Business.

Matthew Blagg, CEO, Criticaleye