I’m not the owner or even CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but one thing that simply doesn’t make sense to me is when one CEO of a brand in one industry takes a position as CEO of a completely different industry that they know nothing about. Below is my experience with such a thing and how it’s played out in the short-term as well as the long-term. Spoiler alert… it’s not good. Industry CEOs should stay in their lane.
Industry CEOs… Stay in your lane!
My wheelhouse is health, fitness, nutrition, business, entrepreneurship, and firearms/self-defense. Those subjects are my passion and ones that I study whenever I can. Sewing, is not one of the things I am good at or interested in. Therefore, I’m not going to go work for a company that I’m not familiar with. Yet, these days we see salespeople and industry CEOs/executives jump around like they’re playing a game of Frogger with their career path. I simply don’t understand.
I fully understand that if you are good at sales, you can pretty much sell anything to anyone. However, to excel at something, you generally need to have a full understanding of the subject matter and in this case, understand the market and industry. But, many don’t care to dig deep and plant both feet in the mud to feel the slop between their toes and fully grasp what they are getting into.
I learned early on in my career to stay in my lane. Focus on what I’m good at and while I can always pick up on new things as I go, I should put my blinders on and be the best at what I’m good at and in an industry I understand and am motivated to build. In my case, I clearly wouldn’t go work for Singer, a sewing machine company, if I knew nothing about it (regardless if I could build a business or sell anything under the sun). But, it seems like some brands and companies are willing to bring in people from outside their industry to come help them grow.
Industry CEOs to CE-OH-NOs
I worked for a brand in the supplement industry who was one of the largest vitamin manufacturers in the world. They seemed to change CEOs and executives like they changed underwear. The interesting part of that is they bring in new people from outside the supplement and health/fitness industry. They would bring in people from Coca-Cola, Bacardi, Chobani, places that have nothing to do with our industry.
When they brought in a new CEO before I left, he was the President of Coca-Cola. Big company, right? You bet. We all gathered in the auditorium to listen to him speak about his new role as CEO and his vision for the future. While he was a good speaker, he asked all of the employees to do one thing. And that was to give him one year to figure out the business so he can help further build it. Seriously? Let’s all just throw our hands up and give up for a year because our new “leader” needs time to understand the business. Give me a break. What a crock of crap. Bring in someone who’s ready to lead RIGHT NOW with a new direction to get the business going again.
Brands don’t have a year to simply run on cruise control (or try to) until leadership understands the industry and market. And this is where supplement companies (as well as companies in other markets) die. They fall behind the eight-ball and never recover. The industry keeps changing and they keep staying the same. By the time leadership THINKS they are ready, the industry has already changed and evolved and once again you’re caught playing catch up.
Steal to WIN
No, I’m not saying you should literally steal something such as a possession or kidnap someone to have them work for you. What I’m trying to say is that you need to hire people within the industry with a track record of growing a brand or multiple. If supplement company A is a billion-dollar brand and supplement company B is just starting out, it would be wise for supplement company B to try to get the CEO and/or executives from supplement company A so they can use their winning strategies and grow.
That makes sense, right? I’m not the only person who thinks and feels this is the right strategy? Because, the company I worked for in the past clearly did not see my thinking and opinion as being the right move going forward. While I’m trying to tell them who we should be looking to bring in to help us grow (even putting them in touch with prospective new hires), they are going outside the industry to bring in new leadership. Guess who many of these people were that came on board when new industry CEOs came on board? Friends of theirs.
When you bring in your friends, you have immunity in a sense that you don’t know what you are doing and neither do your friends, but they are high up on the totem pole, so who’s going to say anything to them? This is totally wrong in my opinion, yet it’s commonly practiced in business today—which is unfortunate.
So, how did it play out?
In the case of the example I was using from a supplement company I worked for, it didn’t turn out too good. Jobs were lost. People quit because they could see the company failing. Divisions weren’t making sales and were missing year-end bonuses. It was a bad situation no matter how you looked at it. Eventually part of the company was sold off. And not too long after that, the entire company went up for sale and was sold. Where’s the CEO from Coca-Cola now? Well, he just left the supplement industry and is now part of Kellogg and the cereal market. WTF? Yea, that’s right. So, he went from being the President of soda company, to the CEO of a supplement company, to now the CEO of a cereal brand.
How long do you think until Kellogg loses money and either gets rid of the guy or ends up losing money and goes up or sale? Again, in my opinion, you can’t simply cross over into different industries and think you’re going to make a splash. It needs to be within the same realm of what you were doing previously. If I were ever to step down from Weik Fitness, LLC or dissolve the business, I would jump right back into something industry related. It’s my love, my passion. I wouldn’t simply jump into another ownership or CEO role in a completely different industry just to get paid more and hold a title. Quite frankly, I could care less about titles. Most people these days shouldn’t even hold the titles that they do. They are generally put in a position of power without being qualified. Then once everyone figures out they have no clue what they are doing, they move onto the next company looking for more pay.
The brand I was with is holding on for dear life hoping that the company who just bought them can bring new life into the business and turn the ship around to keep them afloat. Quite honestly, I feel as if the damage has already been done. The lackluster leadership has launched a new initiative and brand identity that has nothing to do with what the brand was built upon. They are lacking innovation and their brand is simply getting old. Now, they are pushing social media hard and signing athletes in an attempt to pretty much buy their way back into the industry. We shall see who all they bring in and see if they restructure from the top down. All I know is, I don’t have my hopes up that they will make it out alive. Their competitors are way too strong and have the right people in positions of power. They hire from within the industry, and their sales speak for themselves.
In my opinion and what I have seen work best, would be to stick to brilliant minds in your own industry if you want to WIN. Stop bringing in friends or individuals from other industries who have no correlation with the products you sell. Industry CEOs should stick to what they are good at and in their wheelhouse. You wouldn’t bring in a 1,000-pound man who is sedentary to run your gym. So, why would you bring in industry CEOs who know or understand nothing about your industry?
Do you agree with my stance on industry CEOs or do you feel I’m completely nuts?
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