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(originally published by Booz & Company)


Navigating the First Year: Advice from 18 Chief Executives

Of course, you also have to look at the input you get relative to where the input is coming from. I know from my own experience that even though people try to be objective, they are not. They look at the world from their perspective, as I do from mine.

S+B: Do you see that first year as a time to plan or to take action quickly?

Horacio Busanello: I believe the first two years should be inward looking. You must get into the business. Once you are “in the business” and have built empathy, and the executive team is fully functional and has realized that you are one of them, then you can turn outward, to clients, markets, other stakeholders. The first phase must be an introspective one. My key advice is to listen and understand where you are standing before moving. You must have a clear map of where you want to get to, and have clarity about who will help take you there. Once you have that, it’s time to consolidate and implement the plan that will take you there.

André-Michel Ballester: In my case, at Sorin, I tried to look beyond the first year of our turnaround and actually extend my views to two, three years ahead. My recommendation to a new CEO would be, “Don’t stop there.” Look right away at what you want the company to become in the next 10 years — even if it seems crazy to look 10 years ahead when the company is bleeding and could go under if you don’t do something fairly drastic. But it does matter, because there are things that you will need to start very, very early on in the process if you want them to materialize five years or seven years from now. This is what we did with R&D, for example, and we increased our R&D investment from 7 percent to 10 percent of sales while turning around the company. On the other hand, we only started business development activities a year ago in a coordinated fashion. Why? Because we thought, “Why should we do business development activities if we don’t really have the cash to pay for them now?” Well, the business development activities we have today, and particularly in the technology area, will pay off within five years. If we had done some of this, even on a small scale, when I first became CEO, some of these new technologies would be on the market today. We were so focused on the relatively short term — the next two or three years — that we didn’t think it was really relevant to think about the next 10 years.

Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar: I would tell new CEOs that whenever they see any kind of opportunity, they should jump on it immediately, and focus on the implementation, rather than debate it internally. Opportunities have expiration dates. It could be an opportunity to acquire a business or to gain a new customer or to deploy a new technology, or even an opportunity to make major changes to the organization. Maybe we have been cautious, and maybe this is part of our culture. I think that has impacted the management approach, maybe more than it should have done. My advice is to push back more aggressively sometimes, if it’s in the best interests of the company. Take the calculated risk.

Saud Al Daweesh: Indeed. You need to be daring sometimes, even if you have doubts. This keeps the team around you motivated and driven.

Chief Executives Who Participated

Saud Al Daweesh
Group CEO
Saudi Telecommunication Group: a leading Middle Eastern telecom company, based in Riyadh

André-Michel Ballester
Sorin Group: a global medical device company and a leader in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, based in Milan
Romain Bausch
President and CEO
SES: a global provider of satellite communications solutions, based in Luxembourg
Chip Bergh
President and CEO
Levi Strauss: a leading global apparel and consumer goods company based in San Francisco
Horacio Busanello
Los Grobo Agropecuaria: a leading agribusiness and investment company operating in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay
Ahmad Abdulkarim Julfar
Group CEO
Etisalat: a multinational telecommunications company with operations in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, based in the United Arab Emirates
Ronnie Leten
President and CEO
Atlas Copco: a multinational provider of industrial products and services, based in Sweden
Ian Livingston
Executive Director and Chief Executive
BT Group PLC: one of the world’s leading providers of communications solutions and services, based in London
Thomaz Menezes
Sul América: tthe largest independent insurance group in Brazil
Enéas César Pestana Neto
Grupo Pão de Açúcar: one of Latin America’s leading retailers, headquartered in Sao Paulo
Kunio Noji
President and CEO
Komatsu: a multinational manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, based in Tokyo
José Antonio do Prado Fay
BRF Brasil Foods SA: one of the largest food companies in Latin America, based in Sao Paulo
Severin Schwan
Roche Group: a research-focused healthcare company specializing in pharmaceutical and diagnostic products, based in Switzerland
José Ricardo Mendes da Silva
Aché Laboratórios Farmacêuticos SA: a leading pharmaceutical firm based in Sao Paulo
Britaldo P. Soares
AES Brasil Group: a company with operations in energy generation, distribution, and trade, controlled by AES Corporation, based in São Paulo
Osman Sultan
du Telecom: a profider of mobile and fixed telephony; broadband connectivity; and IPTV services to individuals, homes, and businesses, based in the United Arab Emirates
Gonzalo Vargas Otte
INACAP: Chile's largest educational institution
Masami Yamamoto
Fujitsu: a multinational information technology equipment and services company headquartered in Tokyo
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