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CEO Vacancies Create a New Wave of Turnaround Kings


There’s always room at the top. But are there any takers when the organisation is heading for crisis and the new top man (or woman) may have to lead a rapid turnaround?

The question has added urgency at the end of a year in which strike action has created challenges for many private sector businesses while variousstate-owned enterprises face growing pressure to perform, stem losses and deliver.

In the market for senior talent the indications are that a small, but growing number of organisations have situations vacant for ‘Turnaround Kings’ capable of leading a major revival.

The international standard has been set by Alan Mulally, the CEO who fixed Ford, turned it into a winner and emerged as a global managerial celebrity while reportedly earning more than $300 million over eight years.

Clearly, potential rewards are great for the Turnaround King who delivers, but so are the risks.

In South Africa, low growth, embattled consumers and plunging business confidence create an environment that could easily claim corporate casualties in coming months – hence discreet effort in some quarters to identify a possible saviour.

In this scenario there’s good news and bad news.

Scrutiny of senior managers across various sectors confirms that South Africa produces top performers with the experience and attributes to design and implement a turnaround strategy.

But the appetite for crisis management is not always evident. There are some takers, but no stampede.

Attitude is key.

However, those who have progressed up the corporate (or bureaucratic) ranks without relying much on entrepreneurial flairmay be less inclined to put careers at risk.

Financial and ethical issues invariably arise.

A business facing imminent crisis is often prepared to pay a seven-figure basic salary plus incentives for reaching key targets.

Ethical questions relate to the level of disclosure.

Disclosure by the talent search company must be absolute. The relationship with the candidate must be based on transparency, honesty and good faith.

However, complete disclosure from the client cannot always be guaranteed.

The business may be a subsidiary of a major group. At a later stage, a board decision at group level may be taken to close the troubled operation and top managers at the subsidiary might not be consulted until late in the day.

On other occasions, the directors may not be fully aware how serious the situation is. All the bad news may not come out until a ‘new broom’ goes to work.

The executive search company must therefore advise any candidate to research the prospective employer ahead of any interview and review all publicly available information.

At the interview, the candidate is well advised to put searching questions to the interviewers.

Invariably, the candidate already holds a well-remunerated position, often at a healthy, robust business. That candidate has to make an informed decision.

South Africans enjoy a challenge and many executives have the talent to turn a business around, but they like to know what they’re getting themselves into.

Mosima Selekisho is the Director of Talent Africa’s Executive Search division and head of Research Department.

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