Friday, January 11 was my last day as CEO of Black Box, following its acquisition byAGC Networks Ltd. This was my first role as a public company CEO, and I plan to share my experiences with you all over the next few months. Here is how I approached the first 100 days.
I became the CEO of Black Box in November 2017 after serving on its board of directors for four years. The company faced significant issues that I knew would present a challenge to me. While it’s hard to ever be fully prepared for a CEO job from day one, I had an advantage that many new CEOs don’t possess: I already had a relationship with most members of the executive team, due to my time on the board.
Where to Start
The first responsibility for a CEO is toown the vision, and that’s where I think every CEO should start. When there is a new CEO, the employees immediately want to know what changes will be made. While you may not be ready to lay out a five-year plan, you must communicate a clear direction.
It is tempting to say, “Give me 90 days to figure things out,” but I think that is a mistake. Ask yourself questions such as: Where do you want the company to be in one year? Do you have the right strategy? In general, I thought the basic strategy at Black Box was solid. So in my initial conversations, I looked to reinforce the direction and test my own verbiage to see if it resonated with key constituents.
People and Resources
Do you have the right people on board? Do you have the right resources for each department? One of the unique aspects of the CEO role is the responsibility to balance resources between groups and items that are dissimilar. For example, how much should you spend on marketing vs. HR? How do you balance between resources for sales and resources for product creation?
Because of my experience with the executive team, I knew that most were solid. While we ended up making two changes (one left voluntarily and one was asked to leave), the majority of the team stayed with me through the entire journey. That was important, as losing key executives during a time of turmoil can lead to a downward spiral.
One of Black Box’s challenges is that it’s comprised of more than 100 acquisitions. Many of these were never fully integrated into the company. When I got there, it was pretty clear that we didn’t have one culture that needed to change: We had many cultures that needed to be unified.
It’s worth spending a lot of time onculture. And you must start quickly, because culture takes time to change. In a large organization like Black Box, I could never personally meet the majority of the employees. The biggest impact on most would be their manager, so the real question is: How do I drive a consistent culture all the way down to every manager? Culture must permeate everything you do, including who you hire, how you hire, and how you treat them. This also applies to how you treat and retain customers.
As a CEO, you have to decide what you are going to value in the organization. To be meaningful and help people make decisions, a value must communicate not only what you value but conversely, what is less valuable. Here’s a good test of whether something is a meaningful value: Can you can imagine a company upholding an opposite value? For example, some CEOs uphold “honesty” as a value, which is not very valuable. I’m still looking for the organization that claims “dishonesty” as a value!
One value I uphold is running transparent organizations. There is very little information that can’t be shared with employees. Many organizations fail by withholding information, such as how the company is doing. Some don’t communicate well or paint too rosy of a picture, which is another quick way to lose credibility.
In my next post about the CEO’s first 100 days, I’ll cover strategy.