An organization in flux finds deep value in diligently searching for the right leader.
A billion-dollar, high-growth luxury goods organization needed strong leadership to navigate through a significantly choppy sea of change. With an IPO on the way, a recent shift in PE ownership, a new CEO, and a CFO departing after a series of missteps and interpersonal clashes, the organization was in immediate need of a strategic, rock star CFO to build and execute the growth strategy and enable a meaningful exit.
Ampersand was asked to partner with both the organization and the investors to guide in the decision-making process and evaluate candidate selections, ensuring that the right talent was selected for the role.
Confronting the Challenge: What We Knew
Upon stepping into the role, the new CFO would inherit a series of challenges. Fluctuating C-suite dynamics within the organization had created an environment of inconsistent growth and inhibited infrastructure development, pushing the anticipated IPO back. The departing CFO had struggled to work collaboratively alongside both peers and private equity partners, emphasizing the need for a fresh approach.
And though what the company wanted culturally was important in many ways, they were also protecting select elements from the change needed to achieve the next level of growth. Taking a more strategic viewpoint would inevitably challenge sacred cows, illuminating the importance of striking the right balance in the management team to understand – and meet – the goals of the organization and of private equity.
A new leader needed to be brought in with the right blend of drive, experience, skill, and cultural alignment; working hand-in-hand with the PE owners; and refocusing the organization to deliver on the growth plan. With a new, untested CEO at the helm (and an upcoming IPO at stake), it was critical to get the right partner into the CFO role to ensure long-term success.
Finding the right candidate meant adopting a targeted approach to help the organization understand the true accountabilities and create a scorecard. Through three deep-dive interviews, multi-faceted assessments, and pointed feedback, we were able to guide the organization away from serviceable and toward the candidate that was best-suited for the role.
Discovery: What We Found
Ampersand evaluated three candidates over a period of six months. Two elements emerged as key takeaways: first, that the importance of an outcome-based assessment versus the usual slate of one-hour interviews or even a competency-based assessment cannot be understated. By focusing on outcomes (and looking for evidence of capacity to deliver), the result is a much more impactful picture of the candidate.
Second, that being patient with the process yields the best results: the client chose to wait, rather than cave to accepting mediocrity or talking themselves into an unacceptable candidate.
While their résumé conveyed a strong history of value creation, Candidate A brought minimal value when held up against the unique needs of the role. A lack of consistency in forming trusting relationships and a tendency to miss cultural and social cues stood out as warning signs for conflict down the road. Rather than operating as a compelling and captivating leader who could inspire and influence, Candidate A showed high risk for stepping on toes and creating disconnect within the C-suite and with investors. Post-assessment discussion shed light on the most critical elements of the scorecard while illuminating areas of focus for the next internal vetting process.
On first glance, Candidate B possessed many of the right qualities: past successes proved they were a strategic, action-oriented, experienced, and candid leader. But significant cultural risks and a lack of self-awareness meant accepting Candidate B exactly as they were: characteristics such as overconfidence in his reach; a tendency to move quickly without bringing others along; and hesitation to course correct left discomfort in “how” things got done. Though an improvement from the first candidate, the engagement ended mid-deal as Candidate B fortuitously backed out, prompting a fresh look at the candidate pool.
Candidate C showed up as a true A-player, bringing the exact blend of financial prowess, data orientation, high integrity, and dedicated people leadership to steer the wheel toward growth. Deep experience working within both private and public environments built the skill set to work hand in hand with the organization and investors to reach aggressive EBITDA goals and enable an IPO, without breaking glass or causing internal rifts. Culturally aligned, with the leadership chops required, Candidate C was exactly the right partner to align and guide the organization with a truly engaging, strategic, and collaborative mindset.
Outcomes: What We Contributed
- Created a customized, role-specific scorecard to outline key accountabilities and must-haves, guiding decision-making to ensure the right person was in the role.
- Delivered compelling analysis with candor. Diligent review of data facilitated waiting until the right leader was available, and the organization brought in a true rock star leader to lead the organization into a successful IPO.
- Provided a useful roadmap to enable onboarding and shorten time to action. Empowered the CEO to quickly and efficiently start driving the needed change within the organization.
- Facilitated meaningful and difficult dialogue with the client, the organization, and the Board to consider all perspectives and ensure alignment for all stakeholders.