There is a parlor game in some circles which asks whether any organization would hire Steve Jobs using “traditional” selection tools to run a company. The conversation can be held for any person who is seen as an outsider who succeeds. Part of this discussion is moot as founders of companies don’t get “selected” and the skill sets required for a founder and a CEO of an established company are totally different.

For me, it begs the question of what do we really want from our CEOs? After all, we can’t really discuss what we would measure in a candidate until we know what the job entails. This came to mind while I was reading a story about Larry Page this weekend and how he fulfills his role at Alphabet, Inc. (holding company of Google). This is not to say that his role as CEO is typical, but it is instructive.

According the article, Page sees his role as the innovator-in-chief who looks for new opportunities for his company, or existing ones that can be purchased. Just as importantly, he is charged with finding the people to run Alphabet’s innovative businesses. Note that none of this relates to his ability budget, lead and motivate others, manager capital, etc. Of course, the article simplifies what Page does and this blog entry simplifies it even more. However, if Alphabet were to replace him, at least this provides a road map of what they would look for:

  • Openness to New Experiences
  • Curiosity
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Persuasiveness
  • Evaluation of Talent

And it would be very different for hiring a CEO of a financial services company, or a hospital, or a non-profit, etc.

So, the question in the title isn’t meant to be a broad generalization. Rather, for your organization, it should read, “What Do We Want from Our CEO?” Using that thinking, perhaps you would hire Steve Jobs. Or, someone better for your business.

For a deeper conversation about selecting executives, contact Warren Bobrow.