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June 18, 2011

Image by busy.pochi via Flickr

My friend Abhishek @mumblr asked me to write a blogpost on “Should companies pick an HR leader for CEO” .. I loved the thought and told him I will definitely write a post but with a twist.. So here it is..

I think there’s a one in a 100,000 chance of this happening..

But what I REALLY think companies should do… Is appoint a CEO to the role of HR Head…

I am fed up of seeing tons of research and surveys saying that the MOST important differentiator for an organization is talent and culture. And then not see organizations deploy their best resources to this function.

All the round tables I attend, all my personal engagements as a consultant repeatedly throw up only one issue, that most HR..and I say MOST, not all..are unable to make this happen for them. And organizations still don’t want to do something different.

If this function is so important? And the following are required – Execution. Analysis. Synthesis. Strategic business orientation. Delivery. Accountability. Speed. Ownership. Agility. Flexibility. Ability to influence. Then why not think differently?

What are the core competencies of a CEO? Read above..
Which profiles are easier to find today? CEOs? Or Great HR heads?

I think it is high time organizations got out of stupor and straight line thinking, and equipped this function with a leader who is known for an ability to understand strategic context and delivering results. Ergo, a CEO.

Don’t waste your retiring CEOs, recycle them into HR Heads.

Sunday morning tongue sticking out time

Image by Ben McLeod via Flickr

I rest my case.

What do you think? I’d like to know…

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2012 7:46 pm

    I just thought that you might be interested to know that I took this step. After being president/CEO of SAP Asia Pacific and then also CEO SAP EMEA, I was asked to become global head of HR rather than retire from the SAP Board. It was the toughest job (2+ years) I had in a 40 year career in management. I focussed efforts on bringing the Business and HR closer together, though I am not sure that either side was really ready for this, set up a shared service centre to remove the admin load so HR could focus on supporting the business units, and made sure that HR addressed business pain points rather the “HR issue du jour “. Tough assignment but it did change/enhance my views of both HR and management.

  2. July 27, 2011 1:09 am

    I think its all a perception to some extent.. Are we saying CEO function is better than an HR role? In this part of the planet, its really hazy… I have seen autocratic CEOs to CEOs who sweat if their HR Partner is not alongside…

    To me its all about the senior leadership pipeline that every organization tries to build..and in a matured (and may be large) organization, functional discipline comes secondary, to business acumen and how well the leadership skills are honed…

    I see in my daily life CFOs turning into CEOs and junior (SBU level) CEOs taking bigger HR roles…So, in my mind, its all about the skill sets that one acquires within the current role, that makes him/her ready to the next one…

    I recently hired an internal finance guy who has been leading finance function for a product line for over 10 years, into the frontend sales function only because of his deep product knowledge and sales acumen..

    My two cents…

  3. July 26, 2011 11:33 am

    CEO who have delivered would not want such a role, they would continue looking for something more challenging, broader canvas etc. Also the fact that it may mean working with/for someone who may not understand or their peers. CEO who have not been too great a success – Do you honestly want them bugger up HR all over again? Yes, if organizations are willing to take a “Marketing Genius” ask him to run the dead “HR” for 2 years if he/she wanted to be considered for the position. BUT will we have organizations and people both willing to take the challenge?

  4. June 20, 2011 10:57 am

    Nicely written ,

  5. Prashant Bhaskaran permalink
    June 19, 2011 12:40 pm


    It definitely is a great idea.

    But Instead of saying “Don’t waste your retiring CEOs, recycle them into HR Heads.”, i would rather put it this way; “Put your potential/prospective CEO’s talent to test by a mandatory tenure as HR Heads”.

    The energy levels required for an HR head of a vibrant organization surely cannot be met by retiree. This very fact can be seen within the current average age of the HR heads vis-a-vis average age of HR heads a decade back.


    Prashant Bhaskaran

  6. June 19, 2011 11:48 am

    Excellent post, Gurprriiet. There are far too few role models in HR leadership. And far too few business-minded, commercially-savvy HR leaders. Your solution is elegant indeed.

    I would extend the thinking. Some CEOs may be retiring because they have earned a rest, or resigning because they are moving on to lead an even bigger organisation. But what about the high flying senior officers in finance, information services, manufacturing and sales? All of these would benefit from understanding what HR can offer, before they are elevated to the CEO position. And all of them would bring a dynamism and commercial focus to drive a more relevant agenda within HR. So long as they are willing to listen to their senior HR specialists, and the HR specialists are willing to learn, and adapt to meet the demands of a genuinely business-focused HR leader. If those responsible for developing the leaders of the future ensured they spent a period in HR, it would benefit any more senior role they later moved into.

  7. Rishi Raj Gupta permalink
    June 19, 2011 10:51 am

    This is very aptly written. HR fraternity has always been perceived as doing something that business sees as alien activities. If an ex-business leader becomes an HR leader, s/he would certainly bring more credibility and larger buy-in to HR folks and their work.

    Moreover, all HR heads of organisations (who are supposedly the business partners to the CEOs) claim of doing a great job. Now, if that is right, they would have certainly turned the CEO into a great HR Business-Leader! Let’s use them to our advantage!

  8. Rajeev Athavale permalink
    June 19, 2011 8:48 am

    I am not an HR expert, so please excuse me if I say something stupid. I believe that for all managers “Managing People” is of prime importance and is the most difficult function that they are handling. Therefore, all managers are necessarily HR managers also.

    BTW, I would recommend the book “The Seven-day Weekend” by Ricardo Semler. Every CEO must read it.



  9. June 19, 2011 6:19 am

    Twist indeed! And you make a key point about getting outside blood into the function. We certainly need more strategically-oriented, well-rounded leaders to shake things up.


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