LAST YEAR I became chief executive of AIM-quoted Share, and its trading business The Share Centre, one of the UK’s largest independent retail stockbrokers.
I had been FD for nearly eight years and so stepping up felt like a very natural progression. The last year has been exciting but has also come with challenges – both expected and unexpected. I would offer the following reflections to anyone making a similar move.
You are probably already good at upward management, and it’s is essential to have good relationships with the non-executive directors, as they will support you within the board and provide valuable advice and guidance.
In my case, the previous CEO founded the business and was stepping up to be chairman. He and his family remain the majority shareholders. It was critical to build and maintain his confidence in my abilities. The NEDs helped, but I ensured we developed the group’s strategy together ahead of the role changes. We had to be ‘on the same page’ so that he had the confidence to let go in a process of evolution not revolution.
Managing the chairman, keeping him informed and involved but at a distance to enable me to develop my authority, has been a key aspect of this year.
Overnight, colleagues who had been my peers became direct reports, but I was still the newest and youngest executive director. Managing experienced individuals who had previously been colleagues was challenging – particularly in terms of upping the pace as we seek to accelerate the group’s rate of growth.
Inevitably, senior role changes cause others to reflect, and another director announced his intention to retire. This gave me greater opportunity to reshape the team around me.
Recruitment is an important part of the transition, and making sure you have the right team in place to support. You have to recruit a new FD and give that person space to develop in their role – with you still around. In my first year I recruited an FD, a director of customer experience and an IT director. I also reorganised marketing, making the line director redundant.
Recruit a headhunter
A good headhunter makes this easier and I found one thanks to an NED’s recommendation. Don’t be afraid to recruit individuals with stronger skills or personalities than your own – the top team needs a diversity of both. My brief to the headhunter was focused on cultural fit and we have managed to attract some seriously talented individuals from other industries who are already having a significant impact.
Establishing your authority in a new role can be challenging, and I identified a number of ‘quick wins’ to signal things were different. I changed the management structures and introduced a leadership development programme, replaced the Christmas Party, introduced a monthly birthday lunch with the CEO and moved office so that I was located in the middle of the organisation.
In terms of the role itself, what I said suddenly counted for a lot more. As compared to being FD, now people were waiting for my opinions and acting more immediately on my ideas and anything I said. This increased ‘power’ has to be treated carefully and takes some getting used to.
It’s necessary to adjust in a number of other ways. You have to take a broader view and have knowledge of, as well as opinions on, all areas of the business. As CEO you become the public face of the company. This means spending much more time meeting journalists, PR agencies and others. You are also now the lead salesperson in the company and need to take a hands-on role in key pitches.
At a personal level, the first year has been demanding and a lack of time is always an issue. Recruitment and shaping the team around you exacerbates this situation in the short term. As CEO you are steering, nudging the tiller, as and when needed. You are inevitably involved in many issues across the business and finding thinking time can be difficult! A mentor whose ear you can bend for advice or support would be a help I am sure.
So in short, after a year my principal reflections would be:
Main challenge: Shaping the team around me including making a colleague and former peer redundant.
Biggest achievements: A smooth transition, attracting talented people and winning a major corporate contract.
Key advice: Be bold. Have confidence in yourself. Find some quick wins to make an immediate difference, find a good headhunter and ensure you make some space for thinking time and for yourself – easier said than done.
Richard Stone is CEO, and the former FD, of Share plc