CEOs advise young hopefuls to develop personal attributes

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Chief executives from a range of top consumer companies have urged young people starting out to focus on developing personal attributes, such as entrepreneurism, empathy and the readiness to take on new challenges, which increasingly drive success.

Their comments came as part of “CEO for a Day”, an initiative focusing on future leadership talent led by Odgers Berndtson, a global executive search firm. Open now to all UK undergraduates, the scheme pairs individual CEOs and students to give young people a first-hand taste of what leadership is actually like.

Among the 23 companies taking part are household name companies including Sainsbury’s, Domino’s Pizza Group, DFS Group, Welsh Rugby Union and BUPA, the private healthcare provider. The CEOs have noted the impacts of technology but many also stress the growing importance of personal qualities to future leaders.

“Over the past decade we’ve focused a lot on digital skills but the next generation of leaders don’t need to learn these skills, they’re already part of their psyche. What they will need is second-to-none-interpersonal skills,” said Tim Stacey, chief executive of soft furnishing group DFS.

“The ability to engage and motivate teams is critical to good leadership therefore fine tuning your engagement and communications skills, in order to ‘bring people with you’ on the journey is a must. Getting a diverse and disparate workforce to genuinely buy into your vision, and be actively engaged in it, is a skill that shouldn’t be underestimated,” he added.

“I expect our entrepreneurial spirit to remain at the heart of the Domino’s brand. It’s this passion and believing in the power of possible that will continue to drive our success and enable more people to fulfil their dream of business ownership by becoming a Domino’s franchisee,” said David Wild, chief executive of Domino’s Pizza Group.

“Customers – particularly Millennials – increasingly want greater choice and transparency,” he continued. “Not only do we need to keep innovating to bring exciting new products to our customers, but we must also continue to work hard to give clear information on what goes into our food and how it’s made.”

“To ensure future sustainability we will need to be more agile and entrepreneurial in how we operate and will be looking to reflect these things in our workforce,” said Martyn Phillips, chief executive of Welsh Rugby Union. “Our recruitment will become more dynamic, we will encourage risk taking and an entrepreneurial spirit and look at the quality and ambition of an individual rather than totting up grades or looking for a specific qualification.”

“Sometimes it’s easy to get swept up in the craze of new technology but I think it is vital for the new generation of leaders in the health sector to keep customers and their needs at the centre of everything they do in order to deliver effective, value- for-money healthcare and services,” said Evelyn Bourke, chief executive of BUPA, the private healthcare provider. “Looking ahead, we need to think carefully about our customers, their budgets and what services will be of real benefit to them.”

CEO for a Day now runs in thirteen countries across Odgers Berndtson’s international network, with over 18,000 students so far applying to take part and more than 400 chief executives and finalists being paired thus far. For many young people, the experience can be life-changing and change their ideas about moving into work.