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Tough at the top


Being a CEO might bring certain financial rewards, but it can also be fraught with problems. So just what qualities do you need to do the job? Dave Waller gets the view from the Channel Islands


great hope for retail banking. Joining the state- backed company with a package worth a cool £8.3 million, he certainly looked the part – he was charming, politically astute and made a hobby of swimming with sharks. Yet all didn’t go quite as planned. Eight months later, amid rumours of going five days without sleep and holding executive summits on Sundays, almost £1bn was wiped off Lloyds’ market value as he signed off with extreme fatigue and stress. A rested Horta-Osório returned to the


W


hot seat in January this year, but his story highlights the perils of being a micro- managing CEO these days. “Life certainly becomes more complicated when the economy gets tough,” says Nick Winsor, CEO of HSBC in Jersey. “Those pressures that every company faces – growing revenue, managing costs – are still crucial, only there’s lots more stuff going on in the market place than there would be otherwise.” In Lloyds’ case, that means taxpayer


ownership, increased regulation and being


HEN PORTUGAL’S ANTÓNIO Horta- Osório became CEO of Lloyds Banking Group in March last year, he was seen as the


forced to sell off 632 branches to meet Europe’s criteria on state aid. But it’s not just financial heads who are having it tough. Against the backdrop of a creaking Eurozone and widespread austerity, CEOs across the board are being required to increase output while reducing costs, to introduce restructuring and redundancies, and to ask for greater levels of effort from vulnerable employees who are themselves looking to their leaders for reassurance that their futures are secure. Whether at the head of a FTSE 100


company or leading a relatively small firm in the Channel Islands, it’s a wonder the CEO ever finds time to sleep at all. “Successful CEOs will retain a level of high engagement across all employees, and this is exhausting,” says Nicky Little, Partner at leadership consultant Cirrus. “They’ve got so many concerns, plus they need to show a level of humility. The respected ones are those who admit that ‘yes it is tough, but I’m here for you’.” It’d be hard to imagine the likes of Steve


Jobs saying that. The Apple pioneer may have gone to the grave as one of history’s most successful and iconic leaders [see page 46], but behind the quiet black turtlenecks, his temperament was fiery and he remained absolutely fixed on following his own vision.


Follow my leader So which type of leader is best? Do troubled times call for a more team-focused approach, or is it time to cede control to a Jobs-style autocrat, someone who’s willing to take the company by the scruff of the neck in the dogged pursuit of their own goals? Graeme Millar came in to lead JT Group


in 2009, and he believes it’s a mistake to make such a distinction between leaders. The best, he says, exhibit a bit of everything. “They just know how to use the right qualities at the right time. There are times when talking is important, and other times when you have to make a decision. Of course you listen to all the arguments and pros and cons – but ultimately the buck stops with you.” There has been a shift in perception of the


CEO role. The 1980s and 1990s were all about Jobs-style individual, almost heroic, leadership at the top. Now we see a more distributed leadership across the business. Horta-Osório seems to have learned that the hard way: having made the mistake of centralising all decision-making around himself, he returned allowing trusted lieutenants to handle the minutiae, while he oversaw overall strategy. “A successful firm focuses on collective success, not individual achievements,” says


February/March 2012 businesslife.co 45





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