What do Bill George (Medtronic), Meg Whitman (eBay), Bob Wright (NBC), Lou Gerstner (IBM), Larry Bossidy (Allied Signal), Ted Turner (CNN) and Howard Schultz (Starbucks) have in common?
They were all outstanding leaders who revolutionized their companies by applying outside experiences and viewing through different lenses. Unshackled by past memories or limited perspectives, their successes were a product of “what can be?” versus “what has happened?”
Does that mean industry experience is overrated? Not necessarily, but I believe a talented leader with an outside perspective, fresh eyes and an open mind will usually outperform an industry veteran when important change is needed. Why?
The fundamentals are the same in virtually all businesses – there is a product/service, methods to make the product/service, methods to distribute & market the product/service and customers who buy/use the product/service.
A talented leader effectively optimizes people, capital and resource management irrespective of his/her time in any industry. In the process, performance soars when the leader also nurtures the culture (where the nuances exist) and impacts strategy in ways overlooked or underdeveloped by previous or current management.
Although all businesses share similar fundamentals, Boards and organizational leaders of mid-market companies tend to prefer executives who have industry experience because 1), it feels safe 2), they believe an outsider cannot capture the nuances of the business and/or 3), they believe an outsider may disrupt the culture that has been built.
However, large companies understand that outside thinking and outside hiring are critical to performance in this day and age. The Harvard Business Review reports that, from 2012-2015, 74% of CEO planned successions in the Top 2,500 companies were from outside the organization. “Outsider” CEOs consistently outperformed “Insider” CEOs where operating performance has been poor. “Outsider” CEOs and Interim Executives have key characteristics in common: They:
- are not wedded to the past
- are better able to deal with disruptive forces
- are unbound by political or complicated relationships
- are willing to change the business model or do things that haven’t been done before
- make changes very thoughtfully
Those are some of the many reasons why industry doesn’t matter in the world of Interim. Interims bring objectivity and experience in many different industries, cultures and business challenges to the table. They are the ultimate outsiders. So, if you truly want to improve your business performance, consider hiring an Interim Executive.