January 4, 2021 – ON Partners’ annual list of the top executive jobs that are expected to be in demand in the coming year takes on a new twist for 2021. With COVID-19 having upended the business landscape, the search firm surveyed its consultants about the positions that will be critical to helping organizations survive and thrive as the nation moves past the pandemic.
Following are the top positions ON consultants anticipate will be in high demand in 2021 as companies work to mitigate the impact of the virus and move into recovery mode.
Chief Executive Officer
Boards are particularly sensitive right now to CEO leadership attributes of authenticity, resilience, and strong communications skills, ON Partners says. Chief executives who are genuine, thoughtful, realistic, and transparent can be highly valuable leadership qualities during these tumultuous times.
“CEOs who have demonstrated resilience during times of uncertainty bring significant value to an organization that is struggling with strategic or economic setbacks,” said Seth Harris, a partner at ON. “Effective leadership today demands strong internal and external communications skills. A CEO as the company’s brand steward needs to set the tone of the organization’s strategy, reputation and overall health to employees, shareholders and the board.”
“With virtually no sector left untouched by the pandemic, organizations recognize the importance of a leader who can steer the ship toward a path of profitability,” said Baillie Parker, a partner at ON. “Enter the turnaround CEO, who must have a clear action plan and goals, a realistic timeline, and the support of the company’s board and senior managers.”
Falling somewhere between an operating partner and an executive in residence, an executive advisor is typically engaged by a private equity firm as it seeks to enter a new addressable market. ON Partners says that bringing significant knowledge of a particular sector and typically a former CEO and/or board member with M&A experience, the executive advisor essentially acts as the CEO of the company in which the PE firm invests, guiding its development and building its leadership team.
“Executive advisors really become architects, helping PE firms to build a company from scratch,” said Lenny Vairo, a partner at ON. “They should have fairly recently left their role as CEO or board member and still be plugged into the dynamics of a target market, capable of leading the strategic direction into this market.”
Chief Public Health Officer
The pandemic has forced organizations to make difficult decisions about the safety of their employees and customers, and to dive headfirst into major ongoing questions about public health – without much scientific training to rely on. “Companies are considering adding health expertise to their leadership teams to avoid patchwork approaches to future public health crises and make educated, science-based decisions that preserve, promote and protect health and wellness,” ON Partners said.
Chief Financial Officer
Ideas for revenue generation or cost containment will flow from all functions, so a CFO with cross-functional respect and accessibility is critical. According to ON Partners, pivoting the business model, driving to adjacent markets, or rationalizing underperforming work streams will be easier and more effective when the CFO acts as a collaborative, proactive, approachable leader.
“With new norms brought on by the pandemic, such as work from home and remote client interactions, CFOs have the opportunity to build a new fixed/variable business model that can enable and deliver a more efficient and profitable operation globally,” said Mr. Vairo.
“COVID-19 has exposed the massive gap between companies with strong finance leaders and those that have waited to build a proper set of controls,” said Joe Olson, a vice president at ON. “We are seeing a tremendous amount of activity within our private equity business and don’t expect this momentum to slow down anytime soon. Also, as businesses shift to a more distributed model, it’s opened up resource pools in other lower-cost geographies. The CFOs who have set up shared services will have a unique perspective on the continued evolution of a corporate workforce.”
Chief People Officer
The CPO and CHRO roles have always been key to focusing on the well-being of a company’s employees. This is particularly true in troubled times. Strong HR organizations focus on employee wellness and support in times of personal difficulty and focus on developing leaders who are equipped to lead at all times, especially in a crisis.
Pandemic Changes CHRO Role for Good
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed C-suites all over the world. But for the role of chief human resources officer, the changes have been revolutionary. A new report from IMSA Search examines how the COVID-19 crisis has demanded new capabilities and duties for chief HR officers.
“COVID-19 is putting a major spotlight on the role, and leadership teams are evaluating their CHRO’s chops,” said Tara Flickinger, a vice president at ON. “How are they handling the pandemic? Are they remaining calm and collected? Are they being strategic? Are they stepping up from a leadership perspective? Are they getting their employees the resources and support they need? Like it or not, this is a major test for sitting CHROs – and if they are not up to the task, companies are using this time to find talent that is.”
“The companies that are able to maintain the highest levels of productivity, efficiency and customer service are going to be the ones that come out of the pandemic on top,” Ms. Flickinger said. “CHROs are playing an even more critical role in enabling businesses in this new remote working environment.”
Chief Experience Officer
Merging the brand and digital officer jobs, this position is proving important for the external perception of a brand throughout this time.
ON Partners’ Brad Westveld said: “Given that physical interaction between brands and their clients is limited or not possible, how do they engage them? For example, how do you sell a car in a showroom, when the showroom can’t be open? This is going to be important in retail and all traditional big boxes. How is product sold now? How do you engage a customer and sell an item when they may never be able to touch or hold it before the purchase?”
VP of Sales Productivity
The emphasis on sales operations continues to grow into a much broader and strategic role, and some companies are now referring to these jobs as “go to market operations” and/or “sales productivity.” While this has traditionally been the responsibility of finance, ON Partners says that this role is now becoming more of a business partner to the chief revenue officer, moving from revenue measurement to setting up the metrics, better sales compensation systems and being one of the key drivers in predicting revenue on a quarterly/yearly basis.
“Given the changes COVID-19 has placed on the traditional in person software sales process, many companies are shifting to a more leveraged model with inside sales being a key driver of revenue,” said Jeff Hocking, a partner at ON. “Because of the unique nature of inside sales – higher cadence, different measurements, different skill sets – this has further increased the demand for experienced, strategic sales operations executives.”
“The nature of software sales models evolving to a more user-oriented and high velocity model has accelerated due to COVID-19 given the logistics challenges that hinder the traditional field models,” said John Morrow, a partner at ON. “Additionally, the demands placed on today’s sales and digital marketing teams are much different than before and therefore the need to lead, measure and train teams more comprehensively and with more granularity is at the top of every executive’s mind.”
SVP of Supply Chain/Procurement/Manufacturing
Businesses have had the epiphany that they can no longer hedge all their bets on China, according to ON Partners. They are already shifting the way they secure, procure and manufacture goods in a non-China dominated post-pandemic world and need someone who can successfully lead the organization through shifting investments and relationships. Executives who can give examples of the role they played in “recovering from COVID quickly” and leading through a pandemic will be in high demand.
“Supply-chain executives will be forced to reconsider their footprint to diversify outside of China, exploring less developed regions like Africa,” said Heidi Hoffman, a partner at ON. “There will be an expectation that the supply chain will have a “back up plan” that can be switched on almost instantly in case of another unforeseen challenge. Diversifying the supply base and building new capabilities will be themes for the future, and executives who demonstrate flexibility and agility across different functions and regions will be in high demand.”
Chief Information Officer
With remote work and digital fulfillment rapidly on the rise, ON Partners says that CIOs should already be preparing IT systems to meet that demand and provide a way for organizations to effectively maintain employee engagement as corporate cultures evolve. Shifting to digital platforms will help reduce the impact of the virus and ensure companies continue to run smoothly over the long term.
VP of Productivity & Remote Experience
As companies increasingly make the decision to shift to remote workforces over the long term, ON Partners says that they will need someone who can ensure that employees remain productive and have a positive experience working remotely. How do you build, attract, and maintain employee engagement, and what tools to use to stay close? Creating a sense of culture is going to be huge – how do you engage employees you never see will be one of the biggest issues facing companies in 2021.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media