Attracting the Right CEO: The board's role in wooing top talent to the corner office.

Author:Milford, Maureen

Following a massive cyber attack at credit-monitoring behemoth Equifax late last year, the company's long-time CEO retired, an interim chief was installed, and the search for his successor began.

Given the public relations fallout and congressional scrutiny into the security lapses, filling the position with a top chief executive seemed daunting.

In March, however, the company announced Mark Begor would be taking the helm. He spent 35 years as an executive at GE, was a board member at Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), and most recently was the managing director at private equity firm Warburg Pincus.

How did Equifax land Begor? The Wall Street Journal reported that Russell Reynolds Associated was the headhunting firm behind the placement, but a company official would not confirm or deny the story.

That said, Russell Reynolds' Constantine Alexandrakis, leader of the firm's U.S. business and its global leadership & succession practice, did agree to talk to Directors & Boards about how boards of troubled companies and beyond can attract the top C-suite talent.

"The fundamental rule is that no strong and dynamic leader wants to be a caretaker CEO. He or she--it's in their DNA--will inherently want to go into a situation and drive growth, change, transformation and disruption," he explains.

Directors should not be discouraged by the size of the challenge a company may be facing when trying to find top talent for the corner office. They must focus on an organization's opportunities and the challenges, Alexandrakis stresses, "that a CEO with the right toolkit would be excited to take on."

The key is figuring out how to get the right CEO excited, and that includes promoting the company, the culture and the board of directors themselves.

With the average tenure of a CEO clocking in at six years, most directors at some point will have to deal with the hiring of the top manager, says Lisa Blais, co-head of board practice with Egon Zehnder leadership advisory firm. But while there will always be people who want occupy the CEO seat, boards can't just call up an executive recruiter and say: "Send me a Mary Barra [GM CEO]." Leaders who have experience with disruption and change are scarce, she explains.

"There aren't enough CEOs that meet that requirement," she adds. "There's a shortage of transformational leaders."

This puts top CEOs in the driver's seat, she maintains. That means boards will have to "do as much selling as the candidate."

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