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Cover Story
“Dealing with uncertainty is the most pressing issue”
Michael Bekins, MD (India), Korn/Ferry International talks to B&E about the changing role of CEOs post the Lehman crisis.
Issue Date - 30/04/2012
B&E: How do you see the role of a CEO today as opposed to the pre-Lehman era?
Michael Bekin (MB): CEOs today have to be far more learning and agile. They need to adapt and quickly respond to strategic changes. Today it is a different world than it was prior to the Lehman crisis. The competitive environment is changing very rapidly across industries. As such, responding to these changes has taken paramount importance.

B&E: When corporate boards appoint CEOs today, how have their evaluation criteria changed? Also, what are your views on insider CEOs vis-à-vis external ones?
MB: Nowadays, boards evaluate CEOs not just on performance but also on their ability to adjust to strategic challenges they face and how they are positioning the company into the future. They are also being evaluated on succession planning and the leadership team they develop underneath. Boards also now look both internally and externally for candidates. While appointing a new CEO, the preference is heavily in favor of selecting someone who has been groomed inside the company. But a lot of boards also consider outsiders to ensure that they get the best person for the job.

B&E: How viable do you think is this approach of preferring an internal candidate compared to an external one?
MB: Internal candidates are no doubt the preferred lot, but as the strategic landscape changes rapidly, companies would want to be sure that the internal candidate can respond to those changes. Therefore, it becomes important to consider external candidates as well.

B&E: When companies ask you to look up a CEO for them, what do they expect from the right candidate?
MB: The major difference today is that clients now expect us to line up candidates who can manage the gamut of change that organisations encounter frequently. They want a CEO who can build a talent driven culture. It has to be someone who can energise the set-up with a fresh approach to strategy & newer business models.

B&E: Do you think that ‘profits at all costs’ are still how a CEO is expected to deliver?
MB: A CEO has to still deliver within a short span of time because those are the demands of a competitive environment. What has changed now is that CEOs are more careful with respect to their approach to achieving these goals.

B&E: How important is it for companies to be socially responsible from a strategic perspective?
MB: Businesses now operate amidst pressing social issues. And these are big social issues. Companies try to make sure that their approach to being socially responsible is aligned with their core model without compromising on business results.

B&E: What is the best approach to managing uncertainty?
MB: Dealing with uncertainty and volatility are the most pressing issues that CEOs face today. To deal with this situation, management must get the kind of people on board who are fast learners and who are relatively more comfortable in terms of dealing with ambiguity.



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