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Prominent CEOs, recruiters share insights on rising to top job, leaving on up note

CEO Update Live Corner Office panel
The CEO Update Live: Corner Office panel Oct. 7 was, from left, CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham (moderator), recruiter Stephanie Tomasso, NAM CEO Jay Timmons, recruiter Wendy Pangburn and FAH CEO Chip Kahn.

Timmons of NAM, Kahn of FAH and search consultants Tomasso and Pangburn appeared on latest CEO Update Live panel

Oct. 7, 2015
By William Ehart

Nearly 100 association executives and job seekers attended Wednesday’s CEO Update Live: The Corner Office event at SunTrust Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Four expert panelists shared perspectives on the burdens of leadership, how to get to the C-suite and how to plan your exit.

Jay Timmons, CEO of $39 million-revenue National Association of Manufacturers, said passion trumps academic achievement when climbing the executive ranks.

“What a CEO has to be able to show to the board and to the recruiters is that they have the passion for the mission first and foremost, and that they are willing to take the risks necessary to take the organization to the next step,” he said.

Other panelists were: Chip Kahn, longtime CEO of the $13 million-revenue Federation of American Hospitals; Stephanie Tomasso of executive search firm Russell Reynolds; and Wendy Pangburn of executive search firm Pangburn Partners. CEO Update Managing Director Mark Graham was moderator.

Tomasso said candidates need to know what abilities they need to augment to be considered for the top job.

“It’s important to consider what skills you have in your toolbox right now,” she said. “Look at the people around you who are in CEO roles. What have they done that you feel you need to do to make yourself more well-rounded?”

Tomasso said executives in charge of one department, such as lobbying, should familiarize themselves with the operations of other departments.

“What we hear from search committees is, ‘Well, they haven’t run the finances. They haven’t done the strategic planning.’ So find ways to do that. Sit in on the finance committee meetings, take classes at ASAE to further enhance your skillset.”

Pangburn said aspiring executives should know what they are getting into when they enter the C-suite.

“When I interview people I say, ‘Are you sure you want to set yourself out there, because your job is to make your board look good and the organization look good and can you accept that no matter how hard you work and how creative you are, they’re going to take credit for it, and they should. But when things go wrong, guess who is the fall guy? You are.’”

Chip Kahn, longtime CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, said sitting CEOs can’t get complacent if they want to avoid being surprised when the board is interested in hiring a new leader.

“You always have to hear footsteps. As long as you’re hearing footsteps, you’re OK. When you think you’re on top and everything is going fine, that’s when you’re really in trouble,” he said.

For more details, see the next print edition of CEO Update, out October 16.