5 Essential Tips When Hiring a New CEO

Searching for a new CEO is tough, but a thoughtful and timely action plan can make the process smooth while ensuring the ideal person is found.

March 31, 2015

3 Min Read
5 Essential Tips When Hiring a New CEO

John McLean

For medical device, diagnostics, and other life sciences firms, nothing creates unease like the need for a new CEO.

Whether the current CEO is leaving on amicable or contentious terms, the prospect of having to find a new captain for the ship is daunting. The instinct is to jump right in and start naming names of potential successors. Who do we know? Who out there seems like a good fit? Is there someone internally who can take over the top job?

As much as a firm would like to find out who quickly, it is important to hit the pause button and consider the what and how questions: What type of leader do we really need for this juncture in our evolution? What core competencies must he or she exhibit? How might we find such an individual? How much time should we take?

The point is: Your firm’s idea of what type of leader you need, and can reasonably recruit, needs to be fully planned in advance:

Here are five essential tips for doing so:

  • Determine who will decide what’s needed in the next CEO. Is it the board? Will investors and other senior executives have a say? It is good to be inclusive and get many viewpoints in the early stages (people want to have a voice) in order to build consensus around what really matters in the next CEO.

  • Decide whether to hire a search firm. I’m biased on this matter, but ask yourselves honestly whether you can be objective, efficient and comprehensive in recruiting your next CEO. Will internal politics or disorganization hamper your ability to recruit? My colleagues and I are often asked to get recruitments back on track that were started by firms internally and somehow got derailed.

  • Define your ideal leader. In a perfect world, who would you hire? What experience and expertise would she or he have? Be sure to consider whether that person is a good fit for the current size and stage your firm is currently in, and if there’s a good cultural fit as well. In other words, who is the right person for your firm right now, and will he or she get along with peers and the board? 

            This process should involve metrics. Find eight to 10 criteria that everyone agrees upon, and weigh which are the most             important. Getting this hammered out helps to avoid surprises or conflict in the later stages of a CEO search.

  • Survey the landscape. Once there’s an ideal, the question is can we possibly find this person? Again, here’s where an executive search firm can play a critical role in helping to describe the landscape and whether the right person can be recruited for the price you are offering. If the answer is no, it is not cause for a crisis, merely a recalibration of how you have defined your next CEO.

  • Sell the opportunity. Getting the word out is important, but selling exceptional candidates on the job is just as critical. Be proactive and explain to executives why they would flourish in the opportunity and why your firm is worth their consideration.

Though there is a methodical process required to build a foundation for a successful CEO search, I am not suggesting that this process be slow. That just isn’t the world we live in, nor the industry we inhabit. Take all of these items above into consideration, but do them as fast as possible. If a search firm is involved it will begin to send out feelers and source candidates even as a position profile is being drafted.

When conducting an executive recruitment in the life sciences, stick to a 90-day timeline. This ensures urgency and also that top candidates won’t lose interest or field other intriguing offers. While a comprehensive process is critical, time is of the essence.

John McLean is Managing Partner of the Global Life Sciences practice of the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer and has recruited CEOs and other C-Suite executives for Fortune 500 and life science companies.

[Photo Courtesy of iStockphoto.com user Jirsak]

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