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Financial Times publishes School for CEOs article

19 September 2013

The Financial Times has today published an article by Patrick Macdonald, Partner at the School for CEOs where aspiring and current CEOs learn from experienced business leaders.

The article covers some of the things a new CEO needs to think about when starting in their role. Topics include: forming the key relationships with the Chairman and Finance Director; setting the agenda; and the need for personal humility. The article is in the printed newspaper and on the web at

If I was...about to become a chief executive
By Patrick Macdonald

Patrick Macdonald is a partner at the School for CEOs, which runs practitioner-led programmes to help aspiring and current chief executives prepare for the top job. Here, he puts himself in the position of a newly appointed boss:

If I was about to become a chief executive, I would rejoice, because a good chief executive job is just about the best job in the world.

At last I can put into practice all the great ideas I’ve always known would work brilliantly. I have the mandate to pull together the business and drive it in the direction I think is right.

However, a bad chief executive position can be horrible.

Before accepting, I would ensure it is right for me, and that I am right for it. Are the business fundamentals strong? Which way is the market going? Is the company carrying too much debt? Can I work with the chairman and board? What about the finance director and senior leadership team? Are investors and media supportive?

Once I start, I’m responsible, and will need to move heaven and earth to deliver. A lot of people depend on me being successful.

The next thing I would do is think about my relationship with the chairman. He (it is almost always he) is not my boss, but this relationship is crucial to the success of both of us.

I would want my chairman to be supportive as well as challenging, a coach as well as a mentor. It’s a unique business relationship and, for first-time chief executives, it can be hard to get right. If the business is backed by private equity, I would similarly think about my relationship with the private equity partner I would be working with.

Then I would think about my relationship with the rest of the board and the senior leadership. Of these, the finance director is critical. They will be my “partner in crime”, my confidant. Together, we are going to drive the business forward.

The finance director is there to keep the chief executive out of trouble and give me the platform to push the business into new territory. If the relationship breaks down, one of us will have to go.

I would also think about how to set the agenda. I can’t let the chairman, the board, my senior team, or advisers take the decisions – it’s my job.

Of course, a good chief executive consults all of these people and takes them with them, but the buck stops with me. A great question I would ask myself is: “Am I running the business, or is the business running me?”

It is a fine line to tread: I know I cannot be mates with everyone, but I cannot be aloof and excluded, either. I would remember that I am setting the tone for the organisation, both consciously and unconsciously and that over time, everyone will pick up on my traits, habits and biases and mould their behaviour around them.

It will also be easy to lose perspective and believe my own propaganda – the best leaders stay grounded while remaining firmly in charge. I would therefore note a comment made by one chief executive interviewed for “Stepping up to CEO”, a survey by the School for CEOs to be published this autumn. He said: “The most successful chief executives have a unique combination of arrogance and humility, almost in equal measure.”

Finally, I would remind myself that family is far more important than my career. I would remind myself to have fun. And I would wish myself luck, because we all need a bit of that, too.


For more information and to apply for one of the School’s programmes, go to And you can follow us on Twitter at @SchoolforCEOs.


Notes for editors: The School for CEOs is a new concept in senior executive education. It was founded in 2011 by: Patrick Macdonald, Chairman of Reconomy, CEO of Dalestone Energy and former Chief Executive of John Menzies plc; and David Sole, business coach and former international rugby captain. The next programme will take place in London on 9/10 October 2013. The 2-day residential programme will be taught by practitioners: current and former business leaders. It aims to provide senior businessmen and women with the tools they need to become and remain successful CEOs.

For more information and to apply, call 0131 225 5886 or go to


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