Behind every great CEO is an outstanding executive team. As an entrepreneurial CEO of a fast growing digital agency, hiring an executive team is one of the most important initiatives that I have undertaken. As with most startups, I initially promoted from within. Richard Branson espouses the philosophy of hiring from within (see article), “We don’t often go outside. Yes, selecting from a company’s existing talent pool means that some boxes remain unchecked, but it also means you’re never exposed to a candidate with glaring, unforeseen weaknesses. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a morale play.”


With the good fortune of unrelenting growth, we have turned outside the organization to complement our current team, and add energy to our already strong business momentum. There are five must-haves that have guided our executive hiring.


  1. Culture Connection: Culture is one of the most important intangible assets of a company. All hires, executive or otherwise, should pass the culture test. In fact, I have seen some organizations in which the first interview is purely culture focused. The emphasis on culture is just as important for an executive since they will be cascading the culture. Note that there may be an opportunity to tweak your culture, and an executive hire can match to identified objectives.
  2. Mental Agility: Executive leaders must meet and effectively resolve a myriad of challenges. While there are books and articles on vision setting and decision making, executive life is overflowing with real-time decisions that require real-time action. Mental agility and the closely linked active coping approach (see article) enables leaders to go further faster with confidence.
  3. Functional Champion: In contrast to the Philadelphia 76ers who continue to clog their roster with big men, when hiring from the outside, match talent with functional need so that they have the knowledge and perspective to win on the major issues and key failure points facing your company.
  4. Communications Effectiveness: Your executive team should be visionary and motivating. Further, the executive team should connect the dots between vision and operations, and across departments.
  5. Management Catalyst: Bringing in new leadership promises to infuse fresh perspective to take your team to the next level. It also risks creating tension with your existing internal team. Be sure to consider the intangibles so that you feel confident that the new executive hire will be a catalyst to the next wave of growth.


As Apple’s senior vice president for retail and online Angela Ahrendts says (see article), “If you’re going to employ people, why not make them the differentiator?” Indeed, human capital is increasingly a valuable differentiator, and it starts at the top.