10 Traits of Transformational CEOs

April 6, 2016 – Jeff Christian, CEO of RevenueNOW and head of executive search firm Jeff Christian & Co, has placed CEOs at HP, F5 Networks, Hyperion and many early stage start ups. As founder and CEO of Christian & Timbers (which later became CTPartners), Mr. Christian has enjoyed a storied career finding leaders throughout the technology sector.

His focus today is turning to how behavior impacts performance at the executive levels and in the C-suite. Along with partner and co-founder Dr. Tom Janz, a foremost expert in behavioral assessment, they have assembled a list of the top 10 traits exhibited by transformational CEOs.

Here’s what they’ve come up with:

  1. Honesty and integrity. “CEOs who possess these and other ‘right’ values get others to trust them almost from the beginning,” said Mr. Christian. “People naturally want to work for them.”
  1. Strong intellectual horsepower. Transformational CEOs can view and think through issues at multiple levels and from multiple perspectives, including those of employees, the community, competitors, future hires, the board and clients or customers. Mr. Christian says: “They intuitively find critical paths through very complex problems.”
  1. Contagious work ethic. Because transformational CEOs create organizations that celebrate successes, they draw others to embrace the leaders’ need to continually achieve.
  1. A repeatable model for success. “When you ask these leaders how they’ve succeeded, they explain by taking a very complicated model and breaking it down into a process that seems simple,” said Mr. Christian.
  1. A nose for great talent. “Transformational CEOs are excellent talent hounds who rarely need to use recruiters because they have such a strong set of smart, passionate, talented followers who they cultivate and in whom they take great pride,” said Dr Janz. “They have the ability to drill down and recognize the critical components of transformational talent that have taken Jeff and I 25-plus years as a scientist and CEO to engineer into a unique assessment of transformational leadership for CEOs and even presidents.”
  1. Acute customer awareness and insight. Transformational CEOs are great marketers who know how to listen to customers and translate their needs into market advantages.
  1. A focus on smart innovation. These leaders challenge their innovation team to come up with new product ideas and solutions based on knowledge gathered from customers. “They look at new products not as ideas but rather things that solve problems and relieve pain for the customer,” said Mr. Christian.
  1. Financial engineering. Transformational CEOs are experts on how to find growth and attract investment dollars based on their personality and track record. They also are advanced in how they evaluate leading-edge financial tools to find ones that are true values.
  1. A voice for the industry. People begin listening to these leaders within their own companies, said Mr. Christian. “Then customers, peers, competitors and the media all recognize their passion and enthusiasm for what they’re doing, as well as their deep knowledge of the market. They become the go-to people for market insight and, as a result, create celebrity status for themselves.”
  1. Humility. Transformational CEOs are teachable, and they understand the value of creating learning organizations. “Only learning organizations grow,” said Mr. Christian, “and the only way they can grow is if everyone — including the CEO — knows what they know and what they don’t know and is constantly trying to quench the thirst for new knowledge.”

Transformational CEOs, then, are seen to be innovative leaders with a world view and they are clearly in high demand. Here are some recent transformational CEO placements found in the Hunt Scanlon Media news archives:

  • DHR International recruited Gary Walrath as CEO of Chicago-based Turtle Wax. He was most recently CEO of STATS for 12 years, where he led the expansion of the company from $11 million in revenue, 68 employees, and clients and operations only in the U.S., to $95 million in revenue, 700 employees, with facilities in 14 countries and clients now in 44 countries. An inspirational leader who is expected to bring a sense of trust and purpose to the private owners of the company, Mr. Walrath will likely bring Turtle Wax a much needed global growth strategy and vision. He will make a big impact.
  • Heidrick & Struggles tapped Adam Wright as CEO of Famous Dave’s of America. Mr. Wright had served on Famous Dave’s board of directors since 2013, while serving as managing partner of Blue Clay Capital Management, a Minneapolis-based investment partnership he co-founded. A longtime investor, he understands the challenges the company faces — but also the great opportunities that are ahead.
  • Korn Ferry placed Douglas DelGrosso as CEO of Chassix Holdings. He succeeds J. Mark Allan, who, as CEO, led the company through a successful financial restructuring. Mr. DelGrosso joins Chassix with several decades of experience as a well-respected senior executive in the automotive industry. Most recently, he served as president and CEO of Henniges Automotive, an automotive sealing and anti-vibration company. More importantly, he brings a superb reputation and personal drive to the company.
  • Egon Zehnder recruited Robert Palleschi as president and CEO of TGI Fridays. He spent the past 12 years at global hospitality company, Hilton Worldwide, where he served as global head of full service brands overseeing all franchise and brand operations for Hilton’s flagship brand, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton and Curio, a Hilton company. He is expected to breathe new life into the TGI Fridays brand.
  • Spencer Stuart tapped James Staley as CEO of Barclays Plc. Mr. Staley has nearly four decades of experience in banking and financial services and has worked for over 30 years at J.P. Morgan. He has pledged to take a ‘cumbersome and bureaucratic’ bank into the 21st century, with plans to reposition and reinvent a broad and complex global banking brand.
  • Heidrick & Struggles placed Edward D. Breen as CEO of DuPont. This is the first time in 213 years the chemical maker will be led by someone who isn’t a DuPont or has a long history at the company. Mr. Breen formerly served as CEO of Tyco International plc, where over the course of his tenure he oversaw a highly successful restructuring. He is expected to bring a fresh perspective to an iconic, high-powered American industrial brand.
  • Russell Reynolds Associates recruited Stephen Smith as president and CEO of L.L. Bean. He is the fourth president in L.L. Bean history and the first outsider to lead the company. Mr. Smith has extensive background in the retail industry, experience that spans customer relationship management, strategy, brand development, marketing, and merchandising across all channels. L.L. Bean is likely to be transformed under his leadership.

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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