Nov 2012

A Tough Job

This past week has seen the appointment of two of the most visible roles in the UK.

On Thursday, news broke of Tony Hall being made BBC Director General; coming less than a day after the announcement that Chelsea had brought in Rafa Benitez as the football club’s new interim manager (although it is hard to conceive what constitutes a ‘permanent’ placement at Stamford Bridge).

There can be no doubt that these are high-profile posts, helming two long-standing, world-famous British institutions. The prestige is obvious but then so are the challenges.

From the outset, both men will come under intense scrutiny. They are joining their respective employers at a difficult time. The BBC is subject to an ongoing inquiry following widespread criticism over the Newsnight controversy. Chelsea, meanwhile, have stumbled of late, finding themselves off the pace domestically and in the Champions League.

Both jobs, therefore, will share a remit to stabilise, to rebuild, to do better.

These are high-stakes roles, and the pressure won’t be alleviated by the fact that both men’s predecessors found their gangplank had a very short stop. George Entwistle lasted 54 days as the BBC’s previous Director General, whereas Roberto Di Matteo was sacked from the Chelsea job after just 42 games.

It is leadership on the world stage. Success in either role would bring much glory and decoration. Failure, however, will be equally as exposed. Dissected in the press, analysed by bloggers, ridiculed on Twitter.

So would it be fair to call either role a poisoned chalice? Perhaps not. For a start, you only need look at the severance packages of Entwistle and Chelsea managers past to see that the big risks are not without big rewards. Moving away from compensation, these are two of the biggest jobs in the country – the desire for any ambitious individual to take their shot at it is completely understandable.

But what about the tough leadership jobs that exist outside of the spotlight? What attracts people to join a business in trouble when failure doesn’t mean a pay-off, but an indelible stain on the CV?

It is, after all, commonplace for a business in turnaround to replace the CEO. So to whom does this task appeal?

In business the emphasis, inescapably, is on growth. Bigger profits, larger budgets, greater headcount, more offices. Success is almost always measured against size. It is easy to assume, then, that business leaders have the same motivations when it comes to their own careers.

Yet, there are many CEOs out there who see no challenge in joining a business already on an upward trajectory. Who aren’t all about world-conquering, competition-toppling growth strategies. Instead, these are individuals with a stellar track record of doing what is, arguably, a harder job – entering an organisation on the ropes and getting it back fighting again.

Indeed, I suspect these people share some qualities with Tony Hall and Rafa Benitez. Ambition for themselves, conviction in their ability and an absolute belief in the potential of the business.

Emma Brown, Head of Research, Intramezzo Ltd

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