This article discusses the benefits of the 90-day business plan for CEO candidates who are preparing for a CEO job interview for a private equity company hiring a CEO for one of their portfolio companies. According to an article published in June of 2016 by the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2016/06/how-private-equity-firms-hire-ceos), “How Private Equity Firms Hire CEOs,” authored by Jeffrey Cohn (DHR International), and J.P. Flaum (Green Peak Partners), “PE firms hold investments in dozens of companies, and after making an investment, they nearly always replace the CEO.”
Are you going to be the new CEO?
Your performance during your CEO candidate pitch to the private equity leadership team will determine whether you are awarded the offer. As in all business negotiations, the most effective strategy for winning the deal is thorough preparation and a crystal clear understanding of your audience and their needs.
What is the 90-day business plan?
The 90-day business plan will help you seal the deal and position yourself as the candidate of choice.
The 90-Day Business Plan is a business performance tool that puts you in control of both your job interview presentation and your first 90-days as the CEO (and beyond). It also gives you clarity and control as you execute on your plan. Similar to a Swiss army knife, the 90-day plan has multiple uses.
The plan can be utilized for private equity investor pitches, investment banking pitches, or philanthropic audiences. This article focuses on delivering a presentation/job interview to private equity companies who are building out their portfolio companies, but the principles may be applied across business structures, industries, and markets.
During the first 90 days on the job, all eyes will be upon you—from the board of directors, investors, shareholders, Wall Street (and other regulators) your new team, your employees, and your customers will be watching, waiting, and wondering what your first steps will be.
Challenges unique to private equity CEO job interviews
According to the same article mentioned above, private equity firms differ significantly from publicly traded organizations. While public company CEO tenure is approximately 10 years, Cohn explains, “The private equity firms have a lot more skin in the game—so they feel the burn if they make a bad selection.” They have a much shorter time to get to peak performance than the larger publicly traded company.
As you prepare for your presentation, you must understand the PE firm’s exit strategy for their portfolio companies. Are they planning to grow the company for a strategic sale or are they planning an IPO (initial public offering)? You may not know their plans, so having a pitch deck that accommodates both scenarios will be advantageous for you as you position yourself for the next CEO of the company.
Perhaps the private equity firm is planning a major business turnaround for the acquired company. In the first case (among many goals), the focus will be on expanding the market reach and growing the value of the organization through organic expansion. In the second example, the focus will be on extreme cost cutting and efficiency gains. An IPO may still be in the plans for the second scenario, but the turnaround of the entity will be the first priority.
Due diligence for the private equity pitch
Your due diligence for the interview is key. Don’t make any assumptions—primary research will help you identify the needs of the company. Knowing the company better than the private equity partners will be a tremendous advantage. Knowledge is power and if you can demonstrate your ability to research, analyze, and uncover problems in the company, you will look like a hero. Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare:
- Become a customer of the portfolio company. Understand the customer journey and note any deficiencies.
- Engage with the sales team to determine any potential opportunities for improvement.
- Contact the parts department or product support department.
- Research customer reviews online.
- Engage with organizations, such as GlassDoor.com to see what is reported by current employees.
- If the organization is public, you can access the quarterly analyst’s call, and study the financials to get a clear view of their performance.
- Contact the Human Resources Department. Do they answer their phone or respond to their emails?
Satisfy the PE firm’s motivators (make money, save money, solve a problem)
State your value proposition early and frequently. What is it you do to help organizations become better? Fortify the answer with a clear metric-driven answer that will anchor the attention and memory of the audience. Identify between three and five examples to explain, demonstrate, and repeat during the interview.
Although past performance is important, building trust and rapport during the initial meeting is the most important objective because your goal is not to get an offer in the first round, but to secure a second round of meetings with the decision-makers.
Here are three examples of value propositions that are clear, concise, and easy to remember because they are quantifiable (which means the board will remember them). Being memorable to the board using your signature stories will build trust.
“I improved sales performance by 22.5% by revamping the sales training program.”
“I improved company-wide compliance by 10% by creating new standard operating procedures.”
“I mitigated major risk by thwarting union organizing effort, avoiding approximately $1.4 million in costs.”
If you struggle to articulate your value proposition, download our Value Proposition Tool here.
The know-like-trust factor
The presentation serves as a catalyst for trust. Everyone has a stake in your appointment to the CEO role because the stakes are high. Bay Street and Wall Street are watching carefully. Investors need to feel they can trust you. Facts tell, but stories sell, and when you approach the presentation with powerful signature stories that demonstrate your past performance coupled with your motivation and drive to do the job well, you will crystalize the trust.
Many CEO candidates approach the process from a personal point of view which is a misstep because it feels self-serving to the decision-makers, which immediately raises suspicion. Given that 78% of candidates deliberately mislead their credentials on their CVs (source), your challenge will be to demonstrate your trustworthiness during this pivotal presentation.
Again, according to Mr. Cohn in the HBR article, “…Executives said they’ve learned to pay less attention to attributes such as track record and experience, the criteria typically most prized by recruiters, and to give more weight to softer skills.”
Key player positioning
Positioning yourself as a key problem solver to the board in terms they cannot resist will help to improve the know-like-trust factor. Do this by understanding the metrics involved in the organization and using their language to demonstrate your understanding of their business. Know their customers, their vendors, and their pain points. Your preparation will be appreciated because it demonstrates your motivation to join the organization and become an ambassador and champion for their products and services.
Your signature story can be used to frame the presentation and you can punctuate the presentation with a case study which you can present during the interview or tuck it behind the presentation for later consideration and review by the board.
Metrics & performance
Careful review of the organization’s key metrics (historical and current) will be key as you prepare your presentation. Use language they use in their written materials. You can uncover this language by carefully reviewing their prospectuses and submissions to their specific stock market. There is no excuse for not knowing key metrics with the plethora of information publicly available on the Internet. Take it a step further and hire a resource to uncover information that is not as easily available, such as a librarian or financial analyst with expertise in the particular market and industry. This will be especially helpful if you’re interviewing for a CEO opportunity in a new industry. You must demonstrate the transferability of knowledge, networks, and solutions across the divide.
Quarterly analysts' calls will also serve as an excellent resource for the CEO candidate where challenges, forecasts, and plans will be discussed in detail.
Before the CEO job interview
Approach the upcoming job interview as you would a hockey game, baseball game, soccer game, or some other type of sport. High-performing athletes understand how important it is to condition both the body and the mind for a game. An interview is similar because you either win or you lose.
Psychological and physiological preparation of the pitch team will be instrumental for optimal performance. The brain requires oxygen and glucose for optimal cognitive performance. Take the time to get fresh air and ensure you’re well-nourished before the presentation.
The competitors’ metrics
A complete environmental scan of the industry and marketplace will be a handy companion to the metrics you’ve gathered on your mid-cap corporation job interview presentation. As the CEO your job is to thoroughly understand the factors that impact the marketplace from a macro and micro-economic point of view. Understand your organization’s position in the market—understand your organization’s competitors as well. Don’t worry the board will be offended or bristle at your bold research. You will certainly make a statement to the board when you’re able to showcase market intelligence they may not be privy to. And you’ve demonstrated your position as a master researcher and problem solver when you present them with information they can use immediately. You will be memorable.
Key customer lists
Demonstrating your knowledge of the organization’s key customers is another area I seldom see CEO candidates addressing in a job interview. I believe CEO candidates have a great deal of information and emotions to manage during the selection process—a human need to please and impress the decision-makers. However, taking a purely business approach is a stronger strategy. When you can demonstrate your knowledge of and potential relationships you own with their key customers, you’ve then catapulted yourself from the know and like level to the trust level.
If you own specific intelligence regarding their customers, you become much more valuable to the board of directors than your competitors. Preparation is key and your ability to prepare for this presentation will predict the outcome. “Don’t wish for it, work for it” is an adage that is wholly applicable and achievable in your quest to land your first or next CEO role with a publicly traded mid-cap organization.
Monthly tracking and quarterly reporting
Monthly tracking and quarterly reporting will help keep you on track during your first 90 days. The 90-day plan now becomes your implementation plan so really, you’re demonstrating during the interview you already have your training, onboarding, and implementation plan already prepared. The plan will serve as a mechanism to keep you and your team on track.
When preparing the plan, you will need to make assumptions and making assumptions is appropriate. Many candidates are concerned about doing so. As long as the assumptions are clearly stated as so, the board will understand you are not privy to confidential key business assumptions and strategies.
Accountability to the board
Accountability is important to PE firms. The sense of true ownership is important. Everyone needs to feel accountable at every level and they need to be incentivized. Continuous improvement.
The formalization of processes and routines with an eye on continuous improvement to lead performance.
Deliver authority and greater financial rewards. Always create value. Build enthusiasm for the vision of the full potential and its blueprint for change.
CEOs must be constant contact with everyone. It’s not a one-and-done event for townhalls and communications.
The best communicators find new and different ways to get the vision for change and its milestones across to as many internal audiences as possible. Ideally, they consider it one of their most critical jobs and tirelessly drive home the message, again and again.
Westgate works with organizations to support CEOs as they onboard into a new CEO role, raise their visibility in the marketplace, CEOs targeting board of director opportunities, and business leaders transitioning from the exit of their own business.
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