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Ashutosh Garg

The author is an Executive Coach and an Angel Investor. A keen political observer and commentator, he is also the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies. He is the author of 6 best-selling books, The Brand Called You; Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.

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BW Businessworld

CEO’s and Mentors Experience Never Gets Old

Is there a possibility of getting these older managers to mentor the young and newly appointed CEO’s?

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It is a lonely job at the top and very few people can be trusted by the person who has just been installed in the top job as the new CEO. 

Most young and recently promoted CEO’s, while aspiring for the job feel overwhelmed when they take on the responsibility in The Corner Office of their company. This is a big transition that most people make from being top class functional heads to general management. Some settle into their roles and soar. Some plod along, keep managing their risks carefully waiting for their term to end. Some don’t settle in and have to be replaced. There are CEO’s who love to micro manage and there are others who only look at the macro picture. There are those to take responsibility for decision and there are those who blame someone for every decision.

At no stage in the careers of these CEO’s would they have been deemed “unfit for the task” because they have been selected for the top job, with the full confidence and support of the Board. So what is it that makes these CEO’s become risk averse in their new role or set themselves up for failure? And what can the Boards of Directors, who have played a role in the appointment of these CEO’s do to support their chosen candidate? 

If the Board of Directors is committed to investing in the success of their newly appointed CEO, it becomes necessary to support the CEO through mentoring and coaching. It is believed that more than half of the CEO’s do not reach their potential, leading to anger and frustration. The Boards must understand that for an Alpha Male to succeed, he must me mentored by a former Alpha Male.

At the same time, thousands of CEO’s and managers are retiring from the corporate world at the young age of between 60 – 65 years after spending almost four decades in specialized and general management positions in large and small corporations. At this stage of their lives they clearly have at least another decade of work inside them. This aging and retirement of senior managers is happening in all parts of the world. These people know what it is like to run businesses and tackle the challenges of building businesses. They have functional expertise in finance and accounts, budgeting, packaging, branding, sales, human resources, governance, legal matters and they have “been there and done that” in the areas of general management.

Is there a possibility of getting these older managers to mentor the young and newly appointed CEO’s? Is there an opportunity to bring together the energy of the young CEO and the experience of the older mentor in an unobtrusive and non-threatening manner for the benefit of the stakeholders? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. The challenge will be to find the right match and not to succumb to the easy way out of hiring a retired manager from the same company to mentor the young CEO. Therefore, finding the right mentor and then monitoring progress is a role that the Board of the company needs to own and take accountability for.

If I was to try and define the role of a CEO based on my 4 decades of experience in the corporate world and as entrepreneur, I would list out 6 key points:


The CEO needs to drive accountability in his team members while being accountable to the Board and the investors. Developing the right metrics for each department and then holding them accountable to achieve these is critical. 

Allocating capital

For most high growth businesses, capital is scarce. The responsibility of managing the capital made available by the stakeholders lies squarely with an empowered CEO.

Ambassador – Internal and External

The CEO has to see himself as the Ambassador of the company and its business, irrespective of how large or small the business maybe. The role of the Ambassador is equally important both inside and outside the company.

Culture and Core Values

Every business has a culture and the role of the CEO is to develop this culture. The culture of the company needs to be managed as it evolves from the core values of the business and is built over a period of time.

Craft Strategy

Every business needs a strategy to reach out to the consumer and the CEO needs to think through the strategy of the company with his leadership team and in consultation with the Board.

Succession planning

These two words are generally misunderstood to mean succession planning from a human perspective. However, the CEO needs to ensure a proper succession plan to include new vendors and new products to meet and exceed the expectations of the customers.

Given his experience, a mentor play a significant role in brain storming each of these 6 points with the CEO on an ongoing basis. In addition, an experienced mentor will also bring in guidance and knowledge in the following areas:

Good Governance Practices

A good mentor will ensure that the CEO will build good governance and transparent practices in the organisation. Even something as mundane as ensuring board meetings are held on time and minutes are properly recorded is an area where young companies have been known to slip up. 

External Relations

Most businesses, irrespective of the sector they are addressing, need a strong connect with the external world. These connections could be with bureaucrats, politicians, environmental activists or the local councilor. A strong and experienced mentor will have the patience to support the CEO to handle these external challenges

Legal Processes

Most young CEO’s are inexperienced when it comes to handling litigation. A mentor will bring wisdom in handling such legal matters, resulting in a saving of valuable managerial time, resources and of course, money.

Having mentored several CEO’s and entrepreneurs, I have seen the value a mentor who has “been there done that” can provide. For the CEO, it is a very lonely job and there are very few people he can trust. A well-crafted combination of the young energetic legs of the CEO with the experienced grey hair of the mentor would be a win-win combination for all businesses. To draw a parallel from hockey or football, while the CEO and his team are rushing to shoot goals and win, the mentor will be standing on the sidelines guiding the players and protecting the goal! 

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