July 6, 2010

NextGen CEOs -- A New Breed of Leadership

Here is an update of a guest column written at the end of the first downturn of the 2000s.  As we seek to recover from the most recent morass, the content is still relevant.  It's based on my experience recruiting top early career stage talent.  Enjoy!  

As the economy recovers, companies will be hiring for the CEOs of tomorrow. It will be a talent grab for future leadership – with an eye on the vacancies that will ultimately be created by the coming retirement of aging baby boomers.

With a dearth of hiring during two recent economic downturns, companies are finding serious gaps in the talent pipeline for expansion roles and succession planning.

Thus, there will be a focus on what I call “precision” hiring for early-to-mid career stage, high-potentials who have achieved very specific levels of industry and functional experience.

What are the characteristics of those candidates most likely to rise to the top?
  • Track Record of Personal Excellence. With fewer years of work experience to evaluate, clients place a high value on personal characteristics, academics and even youth activities. What impresses? Good study habits. 4.0 GPAs. Teenage entrepreneurship. College leadership roles.
  • Athletic Achievements. Coincidentally, the top stratosphere of the “MBA Draft” is heavily populated by sports standouts. Many of those boardroom bound are All-Americans, national high school titlists, college team captains or triathlon competitors.
  • Navigational Skills. Many NextGens graduated in the depths of the downturn, but did not let that deter their success. One MBA candidate foresaw the absence of on-campus recruiting and jump-started his job search by foregoing an internship in favor of summer school, thereby accelerating his graduation date. He strategized and won a lucrative slot well before his classmates hit the streets.
  • Passion. The MBA stars have a strong sense of their core competencies and how that contributes to enterprise success: Accounting, as the language of business; Valuations, as the core of decisionmaking. Dealmaking. Project management. Relationship-building. Love of a specific industry.
  • High Work Ethic. Self-made achievers always win the attention of clients. We see many high-output candidates who multi-tasked full-time jobs with a full-time class schedule and campus activities. And many from difficult childhood backgrounds who sought mentorship and methods to bootstrap themselves into promising college and career programs.
  • Generosity, not Greed. This is a generation that shares, rather than hoards, information. They will tell their friends about a desirable career opportunity, even when they themselves seek a slot in the candidate pool. We see an admirable focus on success of the team, rather than individual wins at any cost.
  • Willing to Sacrifice. NextGens are willing to backtrack and make trade-offs. To accommodate a spouse in medical school. To be close to family in times of illness. To gain experience where they perceive a weakness in their game. They are flexible and seek such options in career planning.
  • The “Internationalists.” With the increase in off-shoring and growth through M&A, many companies now have a dominant global profile – but an employee base with domestic-only expertise. Fortunately, there is an up-and-coming population with global experience and a strong desire for international assignments. It’s a diverse group that includes those who grew up in the diplomatic core, former high school foreign exchange students, children of immigrants and expatriates, those who study abroad and others.
Some questions to consider: What is your MBA port of entry? How are you attracting top engineers and designers?  What is the career growth path? How do you integrate top, fresh talent without causing a mutiny among the current team? Do you have the level of role that will attract a NextGen CEO? Or will a lower velocity player be a better fit?

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