‘By looking for the ambition and perspective of a CEO, we can link them to a context in which they can create added value for a company,’ says Fabiaan Van Vrekhem, managing partner of Valpeo.
The needs of a company evolve over time. Society does not stand still and companies are expected to adapt to it. Globalization has led to the fact that optimal management in itself has become insufficient. Anticipating new expectations, building new business models and increasing social relevance have become necessary to safeguard the organization’s autonomy.
‘In the search for a CEO, it must, above all, be clear which story an organization wants to propagate, because whoever leads the company must fit in with that story and be able to shape it,’ says Van Vrekhem, who specializes with Valpeo in filling senior executive positions, so-called C-level positions.
The CEO perspective
Van Vrekhem stresses that every CEO has a unique story. ‘Each person has their own perspective on the environment they wish to contribute to. Recognizing this story allows us to determine what that CEO is capable of and what added value they can bring to an organization or to what extent it aligns with the ambitions and culture of the organization.’
The perspective of CEOs is diverse. Some like to focus on optimization. They can efficiently implement what has already worked well elsewhere and focus on maximizing the use of people and resources.
In the search for a CEO, it must, above all, be clear which story an organization wants to propagate, because whoever leads the company must fit in with that story and be able to shape it.
Other CEOs are always looking for distinctive character. They like to immerse themselves in the world of their stakeholders in order to discover new forms of added value. They like to focus on developing new scenarios that anticipate the future. They like to build unique experiences.
Think of Coca-Cola that has been using the image of Santa Claus for decades and at the time tried to conquer the world from this perspective. They don’t just build physical products but create unique experiences.
‘But globalization has placed new demands on CEOs,’ Van Vrekhem believes. ‘They have to be able to shape new business models and new roles for the organization. These CEOs focus on the organization’s place in the value chain and are able to transform entire sectors.’
In this, Uber’s original ambition speaks volumes. “Across borders, cultures and languages, we pride ourselves on connecting people who need a reliable ride with people who want to make money by driving their cars.”
‘This was a new story that transformed the traditional cab world. Or take the then CEO of Nespresso who at the start wanted to teach people to make coffee at home like a barista and meanwhile pushed the coffee producers into the corner. Those CEOs are distinguished first and foremost by the role they wish to play.’
And then there are what Van Vrekhem calls the Captains. Captains of Industry anticipate what will become meaningful in society tomorrow and set new standards in an industry. ‘Nestlé, for example, was among the first to initiate the transition from food to healthy eating in the 1990s. They noticed the growing problem of obesity and recognized that attention to health would become more valuable.’
Above all, to understand whether someone will do well or badly, you must first understand their story or intention and not just focus on past successes.
Sustainability on the agenda
‘This type of CEO has the ambition to create social added value. Sustainability is high on the agenda of many company leaders, but they will not succeed on their own if they are not aware of the new perspectives at the origin of these developments’, says Van Vrekhem.
‘Captains of Society are building to improve existing and even new ecosystems. Just think of the transition from the linear to the circular economy.’
A CEO can only be successful if their story connects with the ambition and therefore the story of the organization. ‘The success of a CEO is determined first and foremost by the extent to which they know how to align with the business context,’ says Van Vrekhem. ‘To understand whether someone will do well or badly, you have to understand first and foremost their story or intention and not just focus on past successes.’
Valpeo has developed methodologies to make visible the extent to which a leader’s ambition and perspective align with the ambition of the organization.
‘CEOs can only be successful in a context that matches who they are. The way they think, feel, like to act is all-important in that. It has to connect to the complexity of the added value the organization wants to bring to their stakeholders and to society.’