In Australia, there has been a lot of media attention to the fact that former Woodside oil and gas CEO Don Voelte was suddenly named the new CEO of Seven West Media – a media conglomerate of TV, newspapers and magazines. Don Voelte had simply been serving as non-executive director on the board for some time, along with a mixed group from mining, engineering, finance and media backgrounds. The debates have centred around whether or not Voelte can head up a Media Group and the share price took a dive after the announcement. But here’s a better question for debate thanwhether he can do it: Now being the CEO, what should be Don Voelte’s first steps? Even if he’s only in there in a caretaker position, how can he help create further dynamism and growth for a group that includes Australia’s (currently) No.1 TV network?
1. He needs to quickly ascertain the position of the media experts in his group. That is, what is the lay of the land, how do they all fare, what are the strategic and operational challenges? Things look awfully different as a non-exec board director than they do working in the trenches.
2. He needs to quickly determine how the troops on the ground are faring. Who are the rising stars who are demonstrating talent for good outcomes, pragmatic ideas and a connection with their subject, their people and their customers/consumers?
3. He needs to find his “raison d’etre” in media. It’s not good enough to say that he will examine strategy, operations or financial management (or build shareholder value – that staple of boring CEOs). None of that instills confidence in a leader – any bureaucrat or accounting staff member could say that. He instead needs to find out what he is passionate about in the media and start sharing that immediately with anyone and everyone who will hear it. He needs to determine if this fits into the group overall and how to support his own passion and aims for the group.
4. He needs to work out the longer term plan: how long will he be there, what will be his short to mid-term goals, whom will he bring on board to realise those goals?
5. He needs to mobilize the troops: having determined those he can start to build partnerships with, he needs to bring them alongside in the run to create further success. By most accounts, Voelte already has some very capable directors of the major media units, but he needs to embolden them to continue to act on new ideas and take prudent risks that will fend off rising threats – that includes digital media, other networks and the sloth that comes from reliance on established hits that have kept them on top of media to this point, but may be starting to wear out their welcome and popularity. BUT, without media experience, he would be doubly foolish to assert his own opinions of what will and what will not work over those of his successful lieutenants. He can’t assert himself as the “leader” by thinking he has to come up with all the ideas. He doesn’t. He just needs to make the good ones come to the fore and work.
6. Lastly (and this may be partly repetitious), he must partner for successful outcomes: he needs to rely on those – old and new – who are talented, skilled and motivated and will work with him to create great outcomes.
Those are a good start. In this case, Voelte also needs to actively start planning for his redundancy, if at all he has the best interests of the group at heart. The fact that Seven West Media did not already have a suitably qualified and experienced successor from within the ranks is an indictment of the current management, but there’s no changing that now. Best to start developing the talent or building relationships with the best candidates from outside the group.
Undertaking the above would be an excellent starting point for any new CEO or leader.