New trend sees corporate comms chiefs seeking to run the company

A fifth of corporate affairs specialists are considering the transition to chief executive jobs and comms plays an increasingly important role in general management, a new report says.

(pic credit: Masuti/thinkstock)
(pic credit: Masuti/thinkstock)
From Corporate Affairs to Corporate Leader, a report by the executive search firm Broome Yasar Partnership, cites research that states today’s chief executives spend a third of their time communicating.

Report authors Oskar Yasar and David Broome argued that this gave credence to the idea that a grounding in senior corporate comms provided a natural springboard to the top job.

They said they had identified a trend in which corporate affairs specialists were now seeking and being appointed as chief executive or for other senior management roles where, traditionally, chief executives had been drawn from the ranks of accountants, corporate lawyers and consultants.

As an example, the authors pointed to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who was formerly a corporate affairs director for Carlton Television.

The report cites the increasing complexity of audiences and stakeholder groups, which has driven the trend towards chief executives spending more time communicating than ever before and the fact that those who had a grounding in corporate comms said it had helped them to manage and influence corporate reputations.

According to the report’s survey of 150 corporate affairs directors, one in five was considering a move towards general management. 

The survey also found that half of UK corporate affairs directors sat on company executive committees and that those who aspired to be chief executives viewed a stint in corporate comms as an experience that could help hone core skills such as building a narrative and remaining calm in a crisis, as well as the ability to communicate succinctly and quickly.

Simon Walker, director-general at the Institute of Directors, said his previous career as a senior comms specialist for British Airways, among others, had helped him develop a sense of how people are going to respond. 

He added: "If you are dealing with investors or politicians, as well as the public, it helps enormously in terms of maximising positive perceptions and minimising negative ones."

John Fallon, chief executive at Pearson, who left the company’s corporate affairs team to run the group’s educational publishing business in Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: "It can be quite a big wrench. As a senior member of the executive, I essentially took a step backwards in compensation in the short-term to get a chance to prove myself. If you want to make the move, you do need to be willing to sacrifice that."

However, the report warns that comms skills alone would not be enough for senior comms chiefs to reach chief executive level and that they should seek to widen their skills and develop commercial acumen and financial management knowledge through training, mentoring or volunteering. 

The report ends: "As an alignment grows between what is expected of successful chief executives and the vast experience in this field of corporate affairs heads, is there potential for a new generation of corporate leaders to spring from the tanks of professionals with a predominant background in corporate communications and is it time for a more ambitious industry debate to raise the profile of our profession as a strong foundation for the potential leaders of the future?"

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