The CEO Agenda: Sustainability

In order to achieve lasting success, a CEO must approach the first years as a marathon rather than a sprint.


The CEO Agenda: Sustainability

It is the job of the CEO to manage both company sustainability and personal sustainability. In order to achieve lasting success, a CEO must approach the first years as a marathon rather than a sprint. Bain partners Peter ParryRaj Pherwani and Jean-Charles van den Branden discuss how leaders can best utilize their time, energy and ideas to impress shareholders in the long run. 

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Read the transcript below.

PETER PARRY: There are two types of sustainability: the CEO themselves—how sustainably they can manage their own career and their own time—and the sustainability of the company: how that manages itself and drives value over time. The sustainability of the CEO, in terms of their health and vitality, is paramount. But getting that sustainability of the corporation and the value creation agenda of the company to be not dependent upon one individual is a vital part of being successful.

RAJ PHERWANI: You've got a lot of stakeholders. Don't forget, one of them is yourself. So you need to make time for not just your shareholders, not just your employees, not just your board of directors—but equally important, time for yourself and time for your family, to ensure that you are doing everything you can to be energetic and ready to meet the challenges of your job.

What you will find is, when you're running out of energy, you're going to be suboptimal in the way you handle things. You're probably not going to focus enough time on the really important things. You're probably going to try to get everything done with less time, less energy, less thought. And that's when the cracks will begin to appear.

JEAN-CHARLES VAN DEN BRANDEN: Typically, as a first-time CEO—and even more so, if you come from the company itself and grew through the ranks—you really want to impress your peers, you want to impress everybody around you, all the stakeholders, to show them that you're up for the job. And you put all of your energy, all of your preparation, all your passion, in that job.

The problem can be that, after the first 100-day sprint, you realize that you're in this for the long run, and it's actually a marathon. And there is no way that you can keep at the same speed for the next couple of years.

What you see with a second-time CEO or a third-time CEO, obviously, with all the experience they've accumulated, is that they know that they want to ace this in the long run. So they want to, of course, impress all the stakeholders in the first 100 days. They want to show that they're up for the job. But they also know that they will be able to do this—they will have to be able to do this—in the long run.

And they're quite articulated from the start to think about what are the boundaries that will allow them to think of their own personal sustainability in order to make this job a good job for them, but more importantly, a good job for the company, so that the company in the long run is benefiting from the fact that they are able to recharge their batteries whilst running this.

PHERWANI: I know you've worked incredibly hard to get to this job. It's been long hours, long days, long nights. And now that you've got this job, I'd bet you your instinct is to actually work even harder, because you're running the whole company.

But let me tell you something: This is not a sprint. It's a marathon. And the most important thing you can do is to pace yourself, and to focus on the most important things, and to make sure that the team around you has the right people—people you trust, people you can delegate to—because they can do a lot for you.

And here's why it's extremely important that you keep a reserve of energy. Your organization needs that. They need you to be energetic. They need you to show up with full force. And the more you can do to preserve those pools of energy for things that you haven't anticipated, the more successful you will be in this job.

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