· Features

From HRD to... interim CEO

We asked former HRDs how and why they moved into roles at the top

“For me it was a case of right place, right time [when asked to be interim CEO]. The previous chairman of Addaction said it was the fact that I [as executive director of HR] had the respect of the organisation, I delivered really effective, not just HR, interventions. That’s the core bit around why people don’t make that transition – they’re very narrowly focused. I had L&D, corporate governance, risk, safety, facilities management… I knew how to go out and recruit a new permanent chief executive.

The first question is: how many HR departments are actually involved in recruitment when the CEO leaves? Or is it the chair of the organisation who finds a headhunter who says ‘ah yes we want someone who is the spitting image of the last person’, and it’s all done out of the organisation. This is my third or fourth CEO recruitment, so I’ve worked with boards and know what they need.

CEOs need great people skills; they need essentially really effective emotional intelligence. It’s that capacity to be able to engage at every senior level internally and externally, but also have the common touch of being able to talk to service users from a variety of backgrounds.

When I was first asked if I’d do the interim CEO role it was sleepless nights and cold sweats thinking: oh my god I’m going to get found out. It’s a demanding role and it can be quite lonely right at the top because who the hell do you bounce ideas off?

But given we in HR spend a lot of our time supporting senior colleagues – coaching, mentoring, development – the one person that probably knows how to really get the support that’s needed to make that transition is the HRD. That will help overcome any potential confidence issues.

A very large competitor was very interested in us working together when I started as CEO. I said ‘send through your financial info’. I was able to use our finance director and he said: ‘they have a massive pension black hole’. I needed someone with that skill to evaluate it because it wasn’t obvious. So I was fortunate in that I had a very supportive and skilled team around me.”

Guy Pink is currently associate lecturer at Chichester College and starting a portfolio career

Further reading

Your organisation needs you: HRD to CEO

HRD to... third sector CEO: Jon Sparkes

HRD to... private sector MD: Esther O'Halloran

HRD to... deputy CEO: Jo Land

HRD to... acting MD: Anne Gibson