Challenges today in recruiting future leaders

By Leon Gettler, Talking Business >>

WHAT ARE the key issues for boards looking to bring in a new breed of leaders?

Anita Wingrove, the managing director of leading search and leadership advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates, said there were several areas “that are challenging companies when recruiting future leaders”.

She said the two big areas were digital transformation and ESG (environmental, social, governance), putting more focus on sustainability.

Ms Wingrove said digital transformation made things “much more complex” for leaders and ESG meant that company leaders now needed to think more broadly. 

“Now, to be more successful, they really have to be turned into the broader context of community, the social agenda, and the sustainability agenda more broadly – and that’s requiring them to lead much more complex environments than they have had to previously,” Ms Wingrove told Talking Business.

Leadership challenges worlds apart

Ms Wingrove said family companies faced completely different issues in developing leaders, totally different from listed companies.

For leaders of family companies, she said, there were two issues.

The first is succession, and how to prepare younger family members for leadership roles. The second complexity is bringing in talent from the market to succeed founders. The outsiders are coming in fresh and are not part of the family and don’t have the context of the family, she said.

“In general with companies of that nature, there are a few challenges at hand,” Ms Wingrove said.

“One is – and we’ve often found in the work we’ve done, across Asia in particular – that the team composite is just as important as having best-of-breed people in each role.

“And so the best CFO (chief financial officer) working in a family business might be excellent because they’re a great CFO, but they work very well with the founder of that organisation. They become the ‘ying and the yang’ if you like, and there’s a huge reliance and trust.”

Ms Wingrove said COVID had challenged the leadership of companies and business all round.

“All of a sudden, leaders were leading their teams from their living rooms through Zoom and other means and, all of a sudden, with the personal issues bearing down on us. If we think back to 2020, it was as much about how this business is going to survive as it was about family members being in hospital and things like that,” she said.

“Here we had leaders not prepared to lead in that environment and, all of a sudden, they were really helping people both professionally and personally to get through some really trying settings. Of course, some did that very well and others found it extremely difficult, both personally and also in terms of the skills they didn’t have at that time.”

CEO tenure now a major issue

Ms Wingrove said the tenure of CEOs was now becoming a major issue for companies.

CEOs were now spending less time in the job. She said it used to average about 10 years. In Australia, this had now been reduced to six.

“The turnover is greater and therefore, CEOs are spending a lot of their tenure preparing the next generation” she said.

Ms Wingrove said there was also more pressure on boards to build talent internally.

This meant CEOs now had to develop talent internally rather than relying on the company to bring in a successor from outside.

“Those CEOs who have a good relationship with their chairs tend to fare better,” she said.


Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at


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