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Sandeep Krishnan of People Business on the recipe for a successful CEO

What makes a good CEO? What are the characteristics that make them rise above the rest? How can founders transition to be successful CEOs? Sandeep K Krishnan, senior partner at People Business, decoded the answers to these, and more, at the Future of Work 2021.

While there are numerous studies focussed on the makings of a CEO, one particular research, the ‘CEO Genome Project’, has always stood out for him, Sandeep said. This research by ghSMART, conducted over ten years ago, covered 17k+ C-suite executives and 2,000+ CEOs to assess the factors that led CEOs to perform the way they do.

Deep-diving into this study, Sandeep spoke about the things that CEOs do differently.

“Firstly, the markings of a good CEO is the ability to decide with conviction and speed. Taking decisions during tough times is crucial, especially in today’s changing business environment,” he said, adding that he is a firm believer in the philosophy of ‘Wrong decision is better than no decision at all’.

Adapting proactively is another key aspect. Citing Zerodha Founder and CEO Nithin Kamath’s example, Sandeep said that he swiftly adapted to leveraging technology as a differentiator to his business and make customer experience better. The ability to engage with multiple stakeholders, bringing people together for growth and delivering on commitments reliably form the foundation of a true leader, he added.

FoW Sandeep Krishnan

Can founders make good CEOs?

Pivoting to his own research, built on interviews and interactions with CEOs, Sandeep said that more often than not, startups begin to suffer when transitions happen – when an ideator or founder moves into the role of the implementer.

Based on his experience, Sandeep suggested some pertinent missteps that founders and CEOs often make:

–       Onboarding multiple co-founders in the early stages without testing for compatibility

–       Focussing solely on technology and not upskilling for the transition to CEO

–       Harnessing a ‘Know-it-all attitude’ and not leveraging alternate options

–       Being reactive and unable to manage multiple stakeholders

–       Shying away from making decisions thus affecting efficiency and growth

“We have heroised startup founders. However, they should realise they are like farmers who are building something from the earth, which needs to be nurtured before seeing results,” said Sandeep.

Walking the Founder to CEO tightrope

In any startup’s journey of validation to the growth phase, Sandeep said its founders must also evolve. While a founder is a risk-taker, governance is a skill they must learn. Moving from an idea-driven mindset to purpose-driven is another key aspect. Value systems of a founder can be vastly different from that of a CEO and aligning them is crucial for focussed growth, Sandeep said, adding that inclusive decision-making is the hallmark of a CEO – a practice that founders transitioning to the role should adopt.

The ramifications of underprepared transitions are often detrimental to startups and organisations, warned Sandeep.

“While a founder is driven by passion, the CEO is driven by growth. Many startups struggle with this, which often leads to chaos. There is a high level of attrition, centralised decision making, senior executives getting disenchanted, and more.”

With so many expectations and aspects, what should a founder or CEO focus on ultimately? “Being a force multiplier, creating a culture of customer-centricity and making decisions that bring growth,” he concluded.

A big shout out to our Future of Work 2021 Co-presenting Sponsors Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Unique Solutions; Digital Excellence Partner, Google Cloud; Associate Sponsor HP and Intel; and Sponsors: Atlassian, Freight Tiger, Archon I Cohesity, TeamViewer, and Pocket Aces.


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