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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Navigating the First Year: Advice from 18 Chief Executives

Masami Yamamoto: I tried to communicate with my employees in as many ways and as frequently as possible. This took place both in staff meetings, when I visited our branches outside Tokyo, and via Fujitsu Group’s internal website. Sending messages to our employees with my honest thoughts, I believed, would be the best way to get their feedback. I have sent more than 200 such messages since I became CEO.

S+B: New CEOs have much to deal with in a short span of time. How can they best manage all the pressures and demands of the job?

Severin Schwan: You have to be very conscious about how you balance your professional and your private life. The reality is that the job is demanding, and it’s also time-intensive. You travel a lot, and that is of course an element. As a consequence, you might have less time available for your family than if you’re not in such a role. In my case, I have three small children, which only makes it harder. Having said this, at the end of the day, it’s also very much about the quality of the time. You have to keep a certain distance from your own job. It’s not easy to switch off over the weekend. I know people who can go to bed and forget about the job and sleep extremely well. I wish I could always say that.

Ian Livingston: I think the stability, the support from home, makes a huge difference…. If you don’t have a very stable, very supportive home life, it can become too much pressure to take.

That’s also why it’s so important to have a top team. That becomes a critical thing, because as you go to the top of a very complex organization, what you cannot do is run the organization yourself. We see some really good senior executives who, when you promote them, start to show that what they’re really good at is doing stuff themselves. They don’t really want to bring in a team who can help them, and they start to implode. You have to run large organizations via teams of people. Finally, the ability to sleep on planes and read in cars is a really big help!

S+B: What are some of the most daunting issues for a new CEO?

Severin Schwan: People will be observing very closely what you do during the first couple of months. And that’s actually an opportunity: You know you are in the limelight, so you can use that time to send a signal as to what is important to you. I think it’s important, especially in the initial phase, that you don’t hang on to your old job. You need to move on, and to make sure that the organization immediately recognizes that you are now in a new role. Because people always think, “This is the guy from that unit, so he looks at things from a particular angle.” You have to get rid of this perception.

Ronnie Leten: For me, there are two things. First, suddenly you have the freedom to oversee everything, and the ability to use that freedom. Don’t jump to conclusions. Go and look at the situation. Is this particular division in a tough business? Or is it really that you have a tough competitor? Is a particular problem operational, or is it strategic? Take the time to look into every aspect of the business.

And when you do want to change something, make sure that you get buy-in from key people in your organization. Really know that they are willing to go with you, that they’re saying, “Okay, this is something I can really see myself working on.” Finally, when you start making the change, make sure that the next day you work with customers to help them understand the change. It is extremely value-destroying for an organization to talk among themselves and not with the customers.

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