Incyte’s Rakesh Agrawal Talks About Finding the ‘Right C.E.O.’ and What It Takes to Become One

By CEO Stock.

We are in a new era where having a growing company with shareholders, customers, communities and employees is more important than ever before. As I read through emails, seeing the CEO is always the last person listed–to say they never respond would be irresponsible and not believable.

The CEO still has an enormous influence with how much control the company gives him. Many industries actually assign the C.E.O. another level of authority over the rest of the company to help perform certain functions. And the C.E.O. is often expected to do the majority of the “running” around because of low margin revenue, long-term relationships and current contracts. I think the C.E.O. still has more of a direct and immediate impact than most of us realize. When it comes to solving a given issue in a more operational way, that is exactly the skill set a C.E.O. has most to offer. A C.E.O. who understands how to make the systems that really drive the company work is something that really matters more than ever.

Although I wasn’t the CEO of my last business (I was a management consultant), I do believe the attributes I learned there may apply when it comes to my new role as the CEO of the CFO Technology Association (C.E.F.T.). In my new role I now am required to approach the C.E.O. from the outsider’s perspective, from the board member’s and organizational executive’s perspective. And because I am an outsider myself, I can help bring a fresh perspective as an accountant who is able to “read the tea leaves.”

Here are some of the areas I see where most companies are lacking.

Having a Chief HR Officer

The greatest weakness I see on a company’s executive team is a lack of a chief HR officer. C.E.F.T. is a not-for-profit (or non-profit organization) and any salary or compensation to the Chief HR Officer may be something the company can’t afford. But having the HR Chief is critical for attracting top talent, retaining existing employees and giving them a sense of the vision and trust in the company. That C.E.F.T. organization could be headed by a C.E.O. and the HR Chief could be in a location far from where the C.E.O. lives or works.

Having a Chief Financial Officer

There needs to be the right balance between not being detached from the operations of the company. One of the major differences that I saw in organizations when I was at Partners Healthcare and then at Guideposts is that when the C.E.O. is the CFO, they have a good understanding of the financial fundamentals and strategies that drive the company. As a C.E.O., I can see why they don’t respond directly to C.E.F.T. from a C.E.O. perspective. But that C.E.F.T. might also think more in terms of helping with forecasting and understanding revenue and expenditures as well as a review of all contracts and sub-contractors.

Having a Chief Technology Officer

This is one area where the CEO has a real accountability. In any large organization there is usually one C.E.O., which means the C.E.O. as a person can have a real understanding of what they need to be making decisions on. This type of C.E.O. has an ability to make improvements in process and how technology is being used and utilized to make the organization more efficient. It requires a good relationship between the C.E.O. and the C.E.F.T. C.E.O.

Having a Chief Innovation Officer

The C.E.O. is tasked with tackling “big problems” and, although they often hear a lot of “nobody cared about” these big problems they are facing. This area can be the most rewarding when it comes to business sustainability. A company has to use the “banking” of time that it takes to develop and implement an innovation program in order to ensure the success of a program from an intellectual standpoint, organizational effectiveness and, perhaps most importantly, to make sure that it is sustainable. This can be the right area to hire an internal C.E.O. from within.

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