Opinion: How to have a good exit by a CEO in transition
Boards and incoming CEOs are well-supplied with comment and advice on how to navigate the passing over of the helm. The aim is to keep the business stable, whilst giving the new CEO space to bring in new ideas.
There’s much less on how the outgoing CEO should manage the transition. I’m moving on from Spread Group in March 2021 after 11 years at the company. This is my third CEO role, so here are my top tips for having a good exit, whether you’re leaving a company, or just moving to a new role in a different department.
In a senior role, where you are leaving the company on good terms, the change may be announced to the organisation from three to six months before you leave. That time is going to be tough on you and your team.
From the day it is decided that you are leaving, your mission changes. You are a leader and it is now your task to lead this change. Your success, your teams’ achievements and results are no longer the issue. Your single mission now is about giving your successor the best opportunity to succeed and take over the reins fast to ensure the success of your company, teams and legacy.
So, how can a CEO, or someone moving internally, have a good exit?
- Plan your departure Prepared for your departure and communicate why it is good for the company. Take the opportunity to have a look at your role with the Board well in advance. Does it meet the company’s needs for the future; are there areas that need reviewing; is it successor-ready? Be honest, even the best CEOs in the world do not do everything right. Sell the fact that new eyes will bring new improvements.
- Keep the team focused Strategy is more important than ever. Keep the team focused on what needs to be done to move the company forward. The future of your organisation is what is important and make sure that continuity is understood.
- Pretend you are not leaving to keep things moving Your significance to the business is likely to dwindle over your notice period. If you are not careful the people in the business may move on from you before you’re actually gone. Whenever you are involved in a project or decision, make sure you push for the result you would want, presuming you would be there.
- Manage the conspiracy theories Meet with your successor and manage the conspiracy theories in-house. Your teams will worry, imagining the terrible outcomes a new person might bring and even build conspiracy theories. Meeting with your successor, whether informally or formally, enables you to calm your team and speak about such fears with your successor.
- Share your knowledge This could be an opportunity to introduce the incoming CEO to your key team members, customers and suppliers. Create a list of things you think they don’t know, or should know, and communicate it. Some things may also be better just passed to your team. Either way don’t lose valuable information.
Whether you’re moving to head up a new organisation, or just moving within the business, industries and companies are small and gossip travels fast. How you leave and what you leave behind is significant for your future career, and the businesses you’ve been involved in. You win by stepping away gracefully and ensuring future success. Nobody will think you did a good job if everything fell apart after you left. What you have built and managed will carry your legacy if it continues to perform.
But above all, your harshest critic is yourself. Will you leave knowing you did your best for your teams, customers and successor? Remember “karma can be a bitch”. As you will probably take over other businesses or teams, ask yourself, have you passed the baton in the way you would like someone to have prepared for you?
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.