The 25 July 2011 issue of Business Times carried an article “Change of guard comes at a crucial time for SATS”, with the subtitle “Outgoing CEO cut reliance on aviation, transformed SATS” on page 9.
I read the article with interest, and listed a few points about what I would say to SATS at a time like this.
Firstly, Mr Clement Woo, the outgoing CEO, has definitely done a whole lot of good for SATS, steering it towards becoming a sustainable business entity not only in the aviation world but also in the arena of food industries. His “hard-nosed commercial instincts” put SATS on the global map, and made it less reliant on the aviation industry than before. How is it then that SATS feels the need to embark on a global search for a new CEO upon his sudden departure? Is there no one from within its ranks to assume the post? We have been hearing a lot about the “Heroic CEO” who arrives in the nick of time, sweeps the company off its faltering feet and snatches huge profits out of the jaws of disaster. We have also been hearing about how that picture is largely a myth. No one person can perform all these exploits by himself. He needs to attract, form and lead a team who will be able to work with him so that these spectacular feats are actually sustainable and not collapse under their own weight when the “CEO lynchpin” is suddenly taken away. Where is this team in SATS? Granted, every team needs a leader to galvanize it with purpose and direction. The members of the team however, must possess leadership qualities in great, impactful and enduring measure themselves. While a team ought to be such that if any member leaves or is otherwise incapacitated, the whole team would certainly feel the strain of the loss, they should nonetheless be able to adjust and carry on functioning, and functioning well. In such a situation, the loss of even a CEO would not be so critical, as another can quickly be appointed from within the ranks of the team. Indeed, the successor ought to already have been earmarked. If not, then “CEO-ing” might well become a remarkably profitable vocation, with CEOs parachuting from company to company, leaving for the next company when the current one is thriving.
Then there is the question of acquisitions, diversifications and growth in general. Theoretically, leading many is similar to leading a few. This means that leading eight or nine large companies, perhaps in different industry sectors or totally different industries, is similar to leading eight or nine people. The challenge is how to get the eight or nine large companies to function as though they were eight or nine integrated human beings, and eventually how to get the eight or nine integrated human beings to work together as a team. Mr Woo has definitely demonstrated his ability to bring different companies, including companies from overseas, under one roof. Has a team for sustaining this growth been forged and established? Have supporting structures been grown so that the ensuing conglomerate becomes a living organism instead of a monolith and therefore eminently more sustainable for all stakeholders?
So, these are the questions I would ask SATS at this time. Is there a culture of leadership development within SATS, and is there the nurturing and encouragement of a global mindset throughout the company? If so, then SATS can take all the time she needs to look for her new CEO, not rush for whoever happens to come along. If not, then it is probably high time that SATS emplaces and grows these capabilities and capacities swiftly but deliberately.
What would YOU say to SATS?