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Are You Ready for Digital Transformation?

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Are You Ready for Digital Transformation?

The acquisition of Whole Foods Market by Amazon should be a clarion call to executives in industries that are just beginning to address the digital revolution. Here are five rules on how to hire a Chief Digital Officer.

For 25 years, digital transformation has disrupted an ever-widening group of industries.  Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods Market should be see as another major milestone. Digital transformation will not slow down.  It will not get less complicated.  It will not get cheaper.  Today’s fast rate of change is going to seem slow compared to the near future.  If you don’t use disruptive digital technology for your business, someone will use it against you.  What will separate winners from losers is the ability to adapt and take advantage of technology, rather than allowing others to take advantage of you.  Your industry's  is no exception. 

A significant part of our executive recruiting practice is helping companies build their management, sales, marketing and customer service capabilities to incorporate digital transformation technology: the Head of eCommerce for Royal Caribbean’s excursions business GoBe.com which plans to disrupt the excursions business, SONIC Drive-in’s CRM, digital creative and integrated customer experience functions so that they can target customers on a 1:1 basis, the Head of eCommerce for Keurig Green Mountain to build an online distribution capability for k-cups, and IBM Cloud Data Analytics for their Head of Customer Service. 

One solution for many companies is to recruit a Chief Digital Officer to oversee the development of a technology roadmap to drive profitable revenue growth.  Finding the right person and setting them up for success is difficult unless you follow our five Rules for Success:

Rule for Success #1: Place this person as high up in the organization as possible and give them some budget

 Ideally, they should report to the CEO, but in some organizations, they might report to the CMO, CRO or COO.

 All directly relevant resources should report to them.

The budget can start small - part of this person’s responsibility will be to justify a three-year budget based on expected ROI.

Rule for Success #2: Minimize the number of people at the company who have conflicting responsibilities:

Things will not go well if the CIO, CRO or CFO thinks they control the digital strategy.

The CDO should be focused customer-facing functions and building profitable revenues.

Let someone else worry about the accounting and HR systems. 

Rule for Success #3:   Describe the ideal candidate carefully and then work to hire that person:  

It is critical that the hiring managers be as clear as possible at the start of the process as to what they are looking for.  We work hard with our clientsj to define 6-8 Key Attributes.

Are you looking for an entrepreneurial leader of a high growth business or a seasoned executive of large scale business?

Are you looking for social media marketing skills, deep engineering skills or a strategic business leader?

What personality types have been successful in your organization?

Rule for Success #4:  Be open the leaders from businesses outside your industry:

Do not insist candidates come from only from your industry.  That approach risks recycling the same knowledge-base.
Executives who have solved similar problems in a related industry for a similar customer base at similar scale will have the tools to be successful and can bring fresh perspective.

Sometimes companies will ask “Can we get someone from Google or Facebook?” and the answer is “No, and they are not qualified for your position”.  You are much better finding someone with strong functional skills out of a closely related industry. 

Rule for Success #5:  Cast a wide net:

The right person may not turn up by polling your own network of friends.  That only works for occasionally and is not likely to turn up the best possible executive.

We recommend casting a wide net through extensive research, thoughtful targeting and cold approaches. We often reach out to 300 executives across a wide network for one position; we typically interview 10-20 prospects to find 2-3 finalists.

Be flexible on geography: the cost of moving a top executive is trivial compared with the benefit of finding the right person.

Finally, you must move quickly to hire the right candidate.  The good people have alternatives and will be off the market quickly.  The ‘half-life’ of an available CDO candidate is about six weeks from first contact.  If you can’t pull the trigger in that time, there is a good chance someone else will.                  


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Ted Pryor
Ted Pryor
Ted Pryor is a Managing Director with Greenwich Harbor Partners and focuses on senior level executive recruiting in Media, Technology and Business Services including general management, sales, marketing and customer service. He has over ten years of experience as a senior executive at GE Capital and over 20 years of experience in corporate finance. Prior to executive recruiting, he served as CFO and CEO of a venture backed start-up company.

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