On 19th January 2017 movemeon hosted the first in a series of strategy events at the Charlotte Street Hotel, titled ‘From Strategy to CEO – Q&A with PizzaHut and Charles Taylor CEOs’. Luisa Barile, CEO of Charles Taylor, Raphael Miolane, European MD of PizzaHut, and our own Founder, Rich, led an evening of questions and answers about their journeys from strategy consulting to C-suite.
Today’s piece will be a general summary of the Q&A.
Luisa, CEO of Charles Taylor Insurance Services, started the evening by outlining her journey from actuary to consultant to CEO. She spent her consulting years at McKinsey as an analyst in Milan, and stayed with them for 9 years, working in strategy, transformational change, and eventually internal leadership development.
Luisa has always had a clear focus on what would give her a competitive edge in the job market, so while at LBS she worked in insurance, to build on her actuarial training. The insight and experience she gained during her MBA helped Luisa when she eventually decided to leave strategy consulting, as she was offered first a COO position, then that of CEO at Charles Taylor, working in insurance again.
Raphael, European MD of PizzaHut described his career path as a series of lucky meetings that shaped his career, starting with the people who encouraged his parents to send him to a better school. From a young age, he has had a keen interest in starting his own business, so he eventually joined P&G to learn about the business and consumer mindset. What does he describe as the key trick of his career? Always choosing the smallest possible business at P&G, so he could make the maximum difference.
From P&G he moved to BCG, and eventually KFC in Paris as FP&A Director. He soon went from leading a team of four to one of 65, in three countries. He has since overseen the merging of PizzaHut’s whole European entity. He is extremely people-focused, and repeatedly stressed the importance of promoting potential.
1. I have always worked in strategy. What can I do to maximise my chances of being hired in a different role in future, and to avoid burn-out?
Luisa: start small, and do things on the side. Picking the smallest unit so you can make the most impact is also helpful strategy. She highlighted the importance of job titles and what you call your role using a personal anecdote: during her MBA work experience, she was internal strategy consultant to the CEO, so asked to be called Operations Manager. The two roles overlap, and this gave her access to operations positions later on.
Raphael: the question is really how to become the obvious choice. There are three important areas to focus on: first, capability, or learning to learn. Secondly, culture – consultants already have a natural preference for the kind of work culture that being top choice requires. And finally, character, or the importance of what you are like as a person.
“Remember that people have to want to work with you.” Understand whether you tick all of these points, and make changes in areas where you find yourself lacking.
2. I work in the strategy team of a large retailer with a very traditional outlook. Most other people in my team worked their way up from stores. Do you find that people without the store experience are at a disadvantage?
Luisa: she had indeed seen some prejudice in the similarly traditional insurance business – especially from people who didn’t know what a consultant really did, and kept thinking she was an accountant.
Find the balance: emphasise skills you have. They might be different from the skills of someone who has worked their way through the business, but they are no less valuable.
She also stressed the need to be specific: say where you can help and the skills you can bring, and don’t pretend to be able to do things you can’t.
Raphael: at the start of his career at KFC he’d often faced the criticism that he wasn’t practical enough. He became so fed up with this criticism that he decided to become a certified restaurant manager, going through all the practical training in a restaurant. He got involved with the very foundational work of KFC, and manned a frying station. This allowed him to understand the challenges that are also understood by those who’ve worked their way up from the store. His advice, similar to Luisa’s, was to acknowledge what you don’t know, then work out how to gain practical experience in that area.
3. Would you hire someone who has never worked at an agency but is very analytical – would you make them, say, brand manager in media and advertising?
Raphael: the question is not if, but how.How could you help them succeed? Anyone can do anything, as long as they are credible. So his advice was to find what is relevant for the business you are targeting. Read, watch, learn about that business. Build credibility by making specific references to challenges you have identified, and how they could be overcome. Echoing an earlier point, he also advised everyone to do things in their spare time – shadow someone already doing the job you would like to, network, and build proof that you are keen to take on this position.
Rich: there has to be a clear sense of driven personal self-development. Consultants are often too arrogant or lazy to really put in the time and effort required for this self-development. Authentically show that you are taking steps outside your day job to prepare yourself for the thing you really want to do.
3. How do you know what the right next step is, and where to go when you are ready to move? How important is it to be passionate about the new product?
Luisa: she had always known she didn’t want to be a Partner. Now with two children, she also wanted more time at home. This was what drove her decision to leave. Insurance was then the obvious choice, but not because she was passionate about it (although she also describes insurance as a truly fascinating business). She had a competitive edge in it. She then picked based on the thing that mattered to her: people. She also had a word of warning, however:
you need to be passionate about some aspects of the role you are considering, even if you aren’t passionate about the product, or you just won’t succeed.
Raphael: take a second to work out how satisfied you are with your life as a whole – happiness is a function of your job in the end, so work out what matters to you. In his case, this was to keep learning, and to leave when the learning ends.
Rich: most people get stuck because they are too scared to stick to their ‘Plan A’. They usually have a pretty good idea of what makes them tick, but are really bad at committing. This is especially true in consulting, an industry that naturally lets you keep your options open.
Really think about what you want to do. What is your dream? Have you been living it?
(In Rich’s experience most people aren’t even living plan B!) Of course, it is scary, chasing after the big dream, so he reminded everyone that getting where you want to doesn’t happen in one move – think about it as chess; one strategic move at a time.
4. I work at a large asset manager. There is a way of working closely with leaders in a big business as well, isn’t there? It isn’t always the smallest project that provides the best way forward…
Luisa: there are many different ways of moving forward. But you must have the opportunity to show that you can take responsibility, and lead and motivate people. Be adaptable, as that is the biggest hurdle when moving from strategy to a corporate role.
Raphael: the key is communication – never be perceived as the smartest person in the room (if you want to be the most likeable), but ask the best questions, and communicate to your superiors why they should take a chance on you.
5. Do you hire consultants?
Yes. The resounding answer was that simple. But all our panellist had warnings for consultants, too.
Raphael: consultants challenge established thinking, which is useful, but he decides whether to hire them based on personality. If they aren’t personable, and can’t handle his stern facade in a job interview, he won’t hire them just because they are consultants.
Luisa: she mostly hires consultants on a temporary project basis. She also likes the external challenge they bring to the business. But what matters just as much is their ability to understand the people and the business, and their humility. No employee likes to be outsmarted by the latest hire, so if they can’t fit in, they won’t be hired.
6. Looking to move out of inhouse strategy, P&L roles seem like a natural step. But what should the next role be if you want to move to GM-type roles in future?
Rich: the people around you are very important – one of them needs to be a genuine sponsor for you, taking risks for you.
Luisa: to take a risk for you, people need to know what you want to do. So have open conversations with, say, your CEO about your aspirations. Ask their advice on how you could get to the same position.
Raphael: find a way to already carry out the activities of your next job. This advice came with a sobering warning: you can only carry out these activities after work, and it takes a lot of time and hard work.
Getting to the top doesn’t happen without serious investment on your part.
7. What advice were you given when you were at the start of your career path/decision-making process?
Luisa: make sure you are always learning more, expanding your skills. This makes you more flexible, so more employable. Her own follow-up advice? Volunteer for a lot of different things, within your own boundaries, but never twice for the same thing.
Raphael: sharpen your questioning skills; be remembered for asking the best questions. Advice he also follows? Hire people smarter than you, with the right behaviour, and when there’s an issue, resolve it. Even if it means managing someone out of the team. Remember that you will also be helping them by moving them out of a bad situation.
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