Opinion: Is today’s corporate affairs director tomorrow’s CEO?

Oskar Yasar, managing partner of Broome Yasar Partnership, explains why communications skills are so highly valued among today’s corporate leaders following the publication of  the consultancy’s report: From Corporate Affairs to Corporate Leader: Today’s corporate affairs director, tomorrow’s CEO? 

Oskar 1

Oskar Yasar

Chief executives, who are entrusted as guardians of finances, organisational structure and strategy, have traditionally been accountants, corporate lawyers and consultants.

However, as the corporate world globalises and embraces technological change, chief executives need to engage with employees, shareholders, customers, government and other key stakeholders.

According to our report, “From Corporate Affairs To Corporate Leader”, an estimated one third of a chief executive’s time is spent communicating, and a growing proportion of future leaders will learn these skills from periods of employment in corporate affairs or communications.

Drawing on research collated from 120 corporate affairs directors and frank and insightful interviews with communicators-turned-executives, including Pearson chief executive John Fallon, SABMiller Europe managing director Sue Clark and Institute of Directors director general Simon Walker, the study found that:

  • A greater alignment between the communications capability expected of today’s CEOs and the vast experience in this field of corporate affairs leaders is starting to generate more corporate leaders with a predominant background in communications
  • One in five UK corporate affairs directors have considered progressing into a broader general management role
  • Many aspiring CEOs see corporate communications as a learning experience where they can hone core skills such as the ability to build a narrative, remain calm in a crisis, multi-task, think fast and communicate succinctly and quickly
  • The increased importance of reputation management is pushing corporate affairs and communications executives to the frontline, to protect and enhance brands and values that organisations now consider to be their greatest assets

High-profile role models exist for the transition from communicator to leader, with Prime Minister David Cameron having served as director of corporate affairs for television company Carlton.

However, communications has often been regarded as lacking in a direct link to revenue generation, and the depth and diversity of skills needed to run major organisations.

In contrast, our research finds that a new generation of leaders have developed their skills and outlooks in a digitally-connected 24/7 world, where communication is at the centre of the way they work.

So how do you ensure you’re a credible contender? Those interviewed suggested above all the need to broaden financial and commercial experience, which may require a sideways move into an operational leadership role to gain some P&L experience – all of which can be a big wrench if you’re used to sitting on an ExCo, reporting directly to a CEO.

With a growing complexity among audiences and stakeholder groups, CEOs have no choice but to spend more time communicating. Those that have spent time in corporate affairs and communications say that it has helped them to learn how to manage and influence corporate reputations – an art frequently overlooked by corporate recruiters.

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