I recently witnessed two senior candidates interviewing for a China CEO role. Both candidates had great track records and talent – but only one was able to stand out as a leader.
The unsuccessful candidate – let’s call him Mr Manager – had plenty of experience in government relations, a key requirement for the job. He had even managed a major government relations crisis for a multinational in China, with noted success.
But this was not sufficient for the role. In his interviews, Mr Manager failed to distil this experience into a compelling point of view.He didn’t have the curiosity to look further than his own circle, or the courage to voice a view that might be controversial.
The other candidate, Mr Leader, made a very different impression. He reflected on the major topics on the local government’s agenda that would most affect multinationals over the long term. He also displayed keen insight about where government and multinational interests might converge.
He argued a specific policy was in the government’s interest and would support the country’s focus on sustainability. He then made a convincing case about how the company could build an “ecosystem of influence” to inform government policy on this topic, and contribute to sustainable solutions.
The board loved Mr Leader – and hired him. The fact that he came from a different industry was no barrier. He demonstrated insight of the company’s challenges, foresight to shape a long-term strategy, and charisma to build a high-performing team. Most of all, he was authentic, comfortable in his skin, willing to express his true beliefs, and ready to break new ground.
Catherine Zhu is a Partner in Egon Zehnder’s Hong Kong office.