Do you ever envy the characters in the movies who find a miraculous message in a bottle that contains exactly the secret information they need to know? In this month’s guest post, CEO Steve Winchester shares his message in a bottle that contains exactly what you need to know about how to make the first. 90 days count as a new CEO. Read on for these valuable career tips and success strategies about how to thrive as a senior leader.
Steven D. Winchester, CEO Winchester Consulting Group and former CEO MaxWest
Like most MBA’s I have always wanted to be a CEO. So, I climbed the ranks of corporate America during 17 years with Black & Veatch and 5 years at Psomas. My path to the CEO office was a long, somewhat circuitous journey during which I honed my skills as a senior manager and leader, including a 3-year stint as an expatriate living in London, ultimately relocating to California. In this post, I will share the learnings from my first CEO assignment.
In a perfect world, one ascends to the role of CEO as part of a seamless succession plan. However, my ascension was more like being tossed into an alligator infested lake to learn to swim! Many times new CEO’s encounter circumstances where the performance of one’s predecessor did not meet expectations and thus drastic change is needed immediately.
My experience suggests there is a period of time, less than 90 days, where the organization and the Board are expecting change and therefore receptive to change, so moving quickly is critical. Here is what must absolutely be done in the first 90 days:
1. Identify a new or validate the existing strategic path
2. Build support for the strategy with the Board and within the company
3. Get the right management team in place to execute
4. Understand and execute a plan to make the most out of your cash situation
5. Communicate reasonable expectations to the Board and shareholders
Every CEO experience is different, due to the unique circumstances of each situation. When I first visited the Max West plant in Florida, there were both strategic and operational challenges. We were literally and figuratively up to our neck in alligators, as an alligator family had taken residence in a pond adjacent to our operating facility. In addition to the real alligators, there were a number of significant challenges;
• The CEO, CFO and General Counsel had unexpectedly resigned,
• A culture of distrust between senior management and the Board of Directors had developed,
• Significant investment of funds without commensurate company development existed,
• Venture capital shareholders were expecting a mid to near-term liquidity event, and
• An historical burn rate flared which would exhaust cash within 6 months.
Using the five 90-day imperatives, we moved quickly and decisively. The new strategy was developed, implementation was begun, the management team was reorganized, cash burn was reduced to extend the financial runway to 24 months, and expectations of the shareholders were properly tempered, all within 90 days. By involving the Board in this 90-day process and acting with transparency we were also able to begin to change the existing culture of distrust.
As you embark on your CEO assignment, I encourage you to structure your approach around the five 90-day imperatives and move quickly. Have your questions ready for your mentor and good luck, new CEO!
Steven D. Winchester
Winchester Consulting Group LLC
400 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245 USA
Phone: +1 310.426.2228