Friday, 18 June 2010

On being a (future) Chief Executive

I’m glad I’m not Tony Haywood. It’s not that that BP deserves any particular sympathy, but he’s clearly had a pretty rough few weeks. In the eyes of America’s media and politicians, desperate to trump one another in the outrage stakes to curry favour with November’s electorate, he cannot do anything right.

Appear contrite and apologetic and he’s not sincere, or he’s wasting time when he could be plugging the hole himself. Appear pro-active in fixing the problem and he’s not sorry enough. Appear British (which he finds hard not to) and it’s the fault of his whole country. Appear to worry more about his own life and family and everyone hates him.

Now Tony is pretty well paid for his trouble. According to Wikipedia he is paid an annual salary of £998,000 and in 2008 his bonus was £1,496,000. But his experience does proove that it’s lonely at the top. His Chair has avoided putting his head above the parrapet except to declare how much he cares for the small people. Tony has been in the firing line, and, to be fair to him, he has not shirked away from it.

Today is our future leaders summit and I am looking forward to chairing the afternoon session. The conference, aimed at our associate members who are looking to make the step up to the role of chief executive, will see a great line up of speakers sharing experience about how to bag that top job. It will also see the launch of our new publication, written by Cass Business School, on How to Become a Third Sector Chief Executive.

I suspect that most of the delegates are more interested in leading a charity than a multi-national oil company. But Tony’s experience should remind them all of one thing: once you’re the CEO there is no passing the buck. When something goes wrong it’s all your fault, even if it’s a genuine accident, even if you had all the right policies in place, even if your staff do something completely stupid.

It’s that kind of isolating responsibility which makes ACEVO’s networks so valuable. There is a point at which only other CEOs can provide you with the support you need, because only they can know what’s it’s really like.

And it is that responsibility which justifies the salaries which we pay to our CEOs. In the media circus surrounding executive pay, it’s easy to forget that it is responsibility, and not just the complexity of the role or the hours worked, which makes CEOs so valuable.

Everything comes on a scale, and not many ACEVO members have the capacity to destroy large swathes of the American coastline. But we do extremely complicated work with the most vulnerable people in the UK and around the world. The risks are enormous, and the responsibility sometimes overwhelming. Things have gone wrong in our sector and you can be sure they will again. So spare a thought for those who choose to isolate themselves with responsibility, and don’t complain when we pay them a little for their trouble.

1 comment:

  1. If they're to be paid ten or twenty times as much as their poorest employees on account of their responsibility, then that responsibility - and whether CEOs are exercising it properly - needs to be scrutinised, particularly when much of it will be taxpayers' money in one form or another.

    As board members are often other CEOs and directors, boards aren't the right place to scrutinise this.