Eleven questions every CEO should be able to answer without fail
I’ve worked with countless A/E and environmental firm CEOs over the past 30 years. From founders and entrepreneurs to their successors and appointees. From risk-takers and visionaries to order-takers and penny-pinchers. From humble, level-five, servant leaders to blustering braggards. From business-savvy types to those who couldn’t calculate their firm’s net multiplier. From CEOs who did the hard work of intentionally building and leading high-functioning leadership teams to those who were unaware of the palace coup that was taking place in plain sight around them. (Et tu, Brute?) I’ve talked with CEOs who were charismatic and inspiring and a (disappointingly) equal number of CEOs who lacked a motivational gene. I’ve even worked with one CEO who bailed on his firm to go work for a competitor when the going got tough.
Whether or not a CEO is effective or successful depends on multiple factors. Some of these can be controlled by the CEO—many are beyond their control. There’s also a healthy amount of luck involved.
However, in my experience, CEOs who can confidently answer* the following 11 questions without fail tend to be more successful and happier in their jobs, get higher grades from stakeholders (internal and external), and have—all things being equal—better-performing firms.
*For the purposes of this exercise, “I don’t know” or “I haven’t thought about that” do not qualify as confident answers.
If you’re a CEO, try answering these 11 questions. If you’re not your firm’s CEO but would like to better understand who is in the driver’s seat, try lobbing one or more of these questions during the Q&A section of your firm’s next all-employee Teams meeting.
Eleven questions for CEOs:
- What exactly are you responsible for?
- Who are you accountable to?
- What is your vision for the firm?
- What is your firm’s brand?
- Who is your successor?
- When will you retire?
- What annual return on investment should your owners expect?
- What are the biggest risks to your firm?
- What is your firm better at than any other firm?
- What’s your greatest strength as a CEO?
- What’s your biggest weakness or failing as a CEO?
Sure, there are a ton of other questions that I ask CEOs when interviewing them such as, “What’s your digital strategy?” etc. However, in my experience these 11 questions get to the heart of the matter. Collectively, the responses are a good predictor as to how successful a CEO will be. They provide insight as to the CEO’s self-awareness, timeline for getting the job done, and capabilities.
Industry M&A continues unabated and is breaking records: This week we reported 13 more deals, including yet another ENR 500 firm. This brings the total number of deals this year involving ENR 500 firms to a record-breaking 16. The industry is being recapitalized from top to bottom.
Congratulations to our long-time client CP&Y (Dallas, TX): Last week, CP&Y management (ENR #211) confirmed that they had agreed to be acquired by industry leader, STV, Inc. (Douglassville, PA) (ENR #34). We’re happy that we could partner with the CP&Y team to help them achieve their goals.
Yet even more congratulations are in order!—this time to our client, Rochester & Associates (Gainesville, GA), on combining with fast-growing DCCM (Houston, TX). We are glad that they trusted us to assist them with this important initiative.
To see the over 130 A/E and environmental firm transactions that our team has initiated or advised on, click here.
The epicenter of industry M&A: Our Texas M&A Symposium is on track to break attendance records. It could be because interest in M&A is at an all-time high and Texas is THE destination state for acquirers. Or it could be that The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown is a stunning venue. We like to believe it’s because of the symposium’s powerful learning and networking sessions. Join over 100 industry CEOs, M&A decision makers, and investors from Texas and around the nation this October 21 and 22 in Houston. We’re thrilled to co-produce this event once again with our friends at ACEC Texas. But don’t delay. The symposium is close to being sold out.
What we’re tweeting about this week: #AE firm leaders need to rigorously question the value of internal business travel—at least 50% is wasteful. Why give up the profits and efficiencies the industry has gained!? Similarly, client travel should be questioned. Sometimes #designers make a better impression via video rather than in-person.
Questions? Insights? What questions would you ask your CEO? Email Mick Morrissey @firstname.lastname@example.org or call him @ 508.380.1868.