Imagine turning down the top job

At the end of 2011, MBS executive recruitment consultants reviewed the reasons for the departure of high profile leaders from large, public corporations such as Lloyds TSB, Adidas and Pfizer. Exhaustion and personal reasons were cited by highly talented individuals as influencing their choice to leave. Once upon a time personal reasons and exhaustion might have been read as code for getting the boot, but as the authors acknowledge, now these are genuine reasons for high-flying leaders to turn down or get out of the top job in large public companies.

Rejecting the time wasted in endless meetings, the remoteness of the executive suite from so-called real work, the illusions of status and the pressures of being under public scrutiny 24/7 or having to constantly deliver short-term, quarterly financial growth, many are turning to smaller, privately held companies where longer-term strategies are valued, along with creativity, autonomy and a sense of freedom.

MBS also reported the challenges they faced recruiting CEOs for companies listed in the FTSE100. Head-hunted, high profile candidates turned down top jobs because they knew the high cost of such roles on their lives – by being at the beck and call of boards all day, everyday; working all hours; travelling and being away from family; quarterly performance assessments based upon returns to shareholders, rather than delighting customers and meeting their needs. And. And. And.

In a survey of some 40 executives who had chosen to lead smaller companies, the main reasons for seeking out these places to work were the relative freedom and autonomy that comes with a private enterprise. While there may be fewer resources, still a need to travel and work really hard, the rewards came from doing a job that engaged their passions, or where they could see how they made a difference, or realised the satisfaction of growing a business. Such rewards came on both personal and professional levels.

Turning down the top job in a FTSE100 company doesn’t seem so daft. If one is committed to pursuing a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s work, then being a slave to shareholders and the board for the sake of a few share points each quarter won’t stack up. Creating and delivering something of real value to people and society, that’s something to want to get up for in the morning. And being able to do it while also valuing and making time for your loved ones, as well as engaging in the pursuits that make you a rounded, healthy and happy person, the top jobs that enable that kind of choice, perhaps they’re more worth choosing.

Photo credits: Victor1558 CC-BY-2.0

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