What If You Were CEO? A Thought Experiment

Forrest Christian Managing Leave a Comment

A friend asked this question: “Well, if you were CEO, how would you do it?” Good question. This is a random thought experiment using the companies that I have experience with, mostly large multi-billion dollar companies, some based in the States and some in Europe, ranging from 15,000 (for a subdiary) to 100,000 employees, although the sites I was at never exceed a few thousand.

I will imagine that I am posted to the CEO position by the Board of Directors. The company is doing OK, nothing spectacular. The company has up to tenlevels from lowest to me:

  1. Worker
  2. Team Manager
  3. Area Director
  4. Associate Vice President, Area
  5. Vice President, Area
  6. Area Vice President
  7. Executive Vice President
  8. Senior Executive Vice President
  9. Chief Operating Officer
  10. Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board

The company is probably a Stratum 7 company, so we’re looking at too many layers. Layer overlap occurs at different levels in different silos. Also, some groups have few layers.

I will have to consolidate power, obviously. I am coming to this organization from outside and will have taken a position that several people will have assumed would be theirs. Luckily, their politicking has gotten nasty and they are not in the mood to trust each other. I can come in and capitalize on this. I will first run them through informal interviews to get a feel of where they sit. I’m looking at CIP (as best I can) but I also see how much I can read about personal and professional ethics, work styles and other general personality information. I will have to do something about the unethical ones. In this, what I’m looking for are allies with strong bases in the company. I don’t have one: the Board may trust me, but it is obvious that these people reporting to me also have relationships with Board members.

I will also begin my mining of the ranks below them. I’m looking for technical experts, people who know their jobs incredibly well and have developed that network of other experts, even outside their fields, across the company. Just because RO may trump the network doesn’t mean that I can’t use that data. I may even go so far as to have a Social Network Analysis done. This would provide me with all the data a Machiavellian leader like me wants to have: who people work with, who they socialize with, who they trust. Since SNA has been in the news and networks are “hot” still, I can probably get away with doing this under the auspices of succession planning.

But I need to capture the lower levels, too. I am trying to build a group of knowledgeable, albeit not very powerful, allies from the ranks under my internal opponents, which will probably be those who report to me. These people can provide crucial insight into what is really happening in these silos, information that the silo managers may not be interested in sharing. Also, it is likely that many of these technical experts are higher stratum than their jobs, making them good candidates for any team I put together in the future.

On the business side, I’ll be looking at our broad strategy, by which I mean what have we historically been doing. Since strategy documents are mostly useless, as Jon has pointed out, I would need to look at what actions the company has actually undertaken. I would get some of the technical experts who are underemployed within the company to work with certain key external consultants to put this together. I need to know the true core values before I can attack them.

This is just start to this thought experiment.

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