Switching industries as a senior leader

Pandemic life has forced many executives to work away from the office and has also led several to reconsider their career paths. Various industries have been impacted by the lockdowns and restrictions, some more than others. Once-vibrant sectors like travel and tourism alongside energy and construction have faced cuts in revenue, projects, office space and budgets.

The interesting trend, however, has been in the less-affected industries. Executives that can hold steadfast to their position are doing so, but they have also started to weigh their options.

The idea of switching industries was an unlikely choice for many executives before, but the changed circumstances now makes the thought more reasonable. Executives are being more flexible about possibilities. Dan Plourde, Partner, North America, explains, “Many executives do not want to wait for the next crisis to put their roles in jeopardy, so the jump to a somewhat related industry is seen as a strategic career move.”

How can senior professionals navigate a transition and how can they maximise success when looking to move into a different industry?

Many executives do not want to wait for the next crisis to put their roles in jeopardy, so the jump to a somewhat related industry is seen as a strategic career move.

-Dan Plourde, Partner, United States

 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Companies are embracing out-of-industry professionals at senior posts as they stand to benefit from such innovative approaches. Relying on their past successes, new-to- industry C-suite level executives have the potential to infuse bold ideas into company culture. Executive search experts can facilitate hiring success by guiding leaders to the best fit for them to shine.

  • Companies must keep an open mind to hiring across industries for executives, with core common skills like project management, people management and employee engagement.
  • As executive search experts, we mentor and partner with leaders taking on the challenge of disrupting industry-related hiring practices.
  • Senior leaders must go through a thorough process of introspection to find their core values, their value-add to the business, their leadership style and their culture.
  • C-suite executives seeking an out-of-industry move will be more successful sooner if they have kept their wider network engaged and active over the years.

 


PEOPLE MANAGERS HAVE A HEAD START

Often, companies look to hire the same profile that is departing – after all, following a well-trodden path is a sensible business decision. However, there is often the need for leaders to come to the table with diverse skill sets, or indeed, work history. If a business needs to change its modus operandi, it should start by changing the profile of the leaders it seeks to onboard.

All companies benefit from two basic but hard-to-master skills that represent both sides of the management coin: leadership soft skills and hard business fundamentals. Hiring out-of-industry executives at high leadership posts can really help here as they bring a wealth of experience and freshness to people management within the company culture, and also an outsider’s view on the objectives and processes in the business.

There are advantages to bringing in an outsider. An outsider brings a different mindset and adds to the diversity of thought within the company, which is a great asset at the C-suite level.

-Gustavo Ribeiro, Principal, United States

“There are advantages to bringing in an outsider. An outsider brings a different mindset and adds to the diversity of thought within the company, which is a great asset at the C-suite level,” says Gustavo Ribeiro, Principal North America. Not just that, at the senior executive level, many skills are transferable between industries, continues Ribeiro, citing the example of the oil & gas industry. “C-suite level professionals will easily be able to transfer P&L, project management, finance skills, people management and employee engagement expertise, which greatly helps the sell-in process.”

Hiring out-of-industry C-suite executives could also help to usher in greater diversity of thought by considering competent and skilled leaders of all profiles for senior roles. Innovative hiring like this can help break the mould of only rewarding company loyalists who have made their way up the ranks, and introduce a fresh approach to problem solving.

SELF-KNOWLEDGE IS GOLDEN

For C-suite career transitions to be successful, senior executives must introspect deeply about their career path to fully understand where they stand. Now, they are in a position to find a company that fully aligns with who they are, allowing them to create the impact that they always wanted to make in the company, and also on the part of the world where the company has an impact.

Plourde explains how it is done. “Put yourself in a situation where you have to go through a period of self-knowledge. This can be frustrating to do in one’s career. But once you eliminate market from the sell proposition, ask what this person’s true value is to the next business. Know your leadership style and the type of culture you thrive in. Look at your track record and ask, what were the drivers of my past successes?”

Put yourself in a situation where you have to go through a period of self-knowledge. This can be frustrating to do in one’s career. But once you eliminate market from the sell proposition, ask what this person’s true value is to the next business. Know your leadership style and the type of culture you thrive in. Look at your track record and ask, what were the drivers of my past successes?

-Dan Plourde, Partner, United States

Ribeiro adds, “It’s important that the leader knows their strengths and weaknesses in terms of knowledge, the skill set they possess, how their success came about and what drives them, which allows them to better articulate the transferable skills that can add value to the new industry they are joining.”

PATIENCE AND PLANNING GO A LONG WAY

The keys to success in such a challenging transition in one’s career remain patience and persistent effort. Patrice Kombot-Naguemon, Partner Africa, shares, “When switching industries, it’s important to know that it means starting over to a degree; and the more senior you are, the more difficult it’s going to be. Planning is key, so look for gateways or potential divisions in the leadership teams of other companies to get closer to your goal and to acquire the information and knowledge you need to inform your decision.”

A long wait and search can cause senior leaders to feel discouraged, especially when time is running out, but an eye on the smaller, daily tasks can help them along. As Ribeiro explains, “This change can take a long time, so I tell executives to practise patience during the transition. Build and expand your network, understand your value, pull out from your past the management techniques and styles you used to build your previous companies: focus on these activities to help the process along.”

COUNTING ON THE COMMONALITIES

It’s important to remember that with challenges, there is always possibility. Take, for example, the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries. Nearly 90,000 jobs were cut globally in the fossil fuel industry in March and April 2020 alone, reports Bloomberg. Renewable energy companies, too, cut as many jobs during the lockdown period when projects were put on hold. But the clean power industry is bouncing back sooner, re-hiring as the engines start whirring again. The oil companies, however, continue to suffer their worst-ever demand.

The key to accurately moving a leader between industries is benchmarking skills and experiences against job requirements, and to vet against company culture and personality. Leaders coming in from an external industry, with strong experience working for major players, bring with them best practices and methodologies, and any company will buy into that. That can be a great asset to more junior or smaller companies in the space.

-Patrice Kombot-Naguemon, Partner, Africa

Along with bringing back furloughed clean power workers, the renewable energy industry is increasingly searching for senior professionals from the oil & gas sector, where much of the background know-how is similar, including geology, engineering, finance, asset management, land acquisition and energy contractual work.

The encouraging news for C-suite executives is that demand for their roles is high and is expected to remain high, as the world navigates the future. Professional search engagement typically soars during times of crisis. While this demand initially stabilised by Q4 2020, it will still remain on the higher side throughout 2021 and beyond. How can recruiters help C-suite executives transition industries in this environment?

Kombot-Naguemon explains, “The key to accurately moving a leader between industries is benchmarking skills and experiences against job requirements, and to vet against company culture and personality. Leaders coming in from an external industry, with strong experience working for major players, bring with them best practices and methodologies, and any company will buy into that. That can be a great asset to more junior or smaller companies in the space.”

That said, the person must rely on past successes and tap into their network. Kombot-Naguemon adds, “Though it can be challenging, these transfers do happen, but people need to be opportunistic and leverage all of their skills and their past – and lean in on networking.” The process of introspection that is needed for a senior leader to change industries can be challenging as diving into past successes and styles of leadership could seem daunting. But, the rewards on offer, such as defining new business practices, or using hard-won leadership skills to advance an organisation’s people, can be career-defining and well worth the effort.


 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Companies are embracing out-of-industry professionals at senior posts as they stand to benefit from such innovative approaches. Relying on their past successes, new-to- industry C-suite level executives have the potential to infuse bold ideas into company culture. Executive search experts can facilitate hiring success by guiding leaders to the best fit for them to shine.

  • Companies must keep an open mind to hiring across industries for executives, with core common skills like project management, people management and employee engagement.
  • As executive search experts, we mentor and partner with leaders taking on the challenge of disrupting industry-related hiring practices.
  • Senior leaders must go through a thorough process of introspection to find their core values, their value-add to the business, their leadership style and their culture.
  • C-suite executives seeking an out-of-industry move will be more successful sooner if they have kept their wider network engaged and active over the years.

 


Contact the Consultants Quoted in this Article

Dan Plourde

Dan Plourde
Partner
United States

Gustvao Ribeiro

Gustavo Ribeiro
Principal
United States

Patrice Kombot-Naguemon

Patrice Kombot-Naguemon
Partner
Africa

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