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CEO Insights

Ten ‘commandments’ for future CEOs

Francesco Pagano

The future is not what it used to be. Old models are broken, so it seems. Or, at least, we need something different than the traditional business scheme, which has made the ‘Mad Men’ of advertising so powerful, until the advent of the internet. Brand owners thought they were in charge, or owned, indeed, their franchise. Unfortunately, it was an illusion. Capitalism was celebrated through very concentrated distribution and media networks, which gave an unfair advantage to companies’ push strategies and locked-in fans.

To describe this leadership shift, we are going to steal with pride from the work done with Pierangelo Soldavini, for Italy’s #1 business platform, Il Sole 24 Ore. What is CEO Confidential? It’s a three-year project, made of 250+ interviews with global CEOs; plus, two books on leadership.

What’s the elevator pitch of the work? The world is being taken by storm by four lightning bolts: exponential technologies, like AI and blockchain; the sustainability imperative; a collaborative marketing machine; a distributed chain of command. This means new values are needed for the CEO of the future.

Here are the ten new commandments, or suggestions, which can guide us through an uncertain future, and its demanding challenges:

  1. Strategy: Nothing new. This is a military term, and it has always been the one battle that a brand or a company wants to win. What changes today is that we live in a world of scarcity. We have limitations: money, people, and time. The first suggestion for the leader of the future is, however, to keep their ambition ‘limitless’, so that the thirst to revolutionize one’s industry, community and the whole world doesn’t scale down in the face of constraints. This is, for example, the approach of Leslie Johnston, CEO at the Laudes Foundation and Chair at Impact Europe, who wants to change the face of the various markets she is active in. The CEO of the future always goes for the moon-shot. You don’t fire up the troops with a reasonable plan. You win your key battle, if the Team has a dream, which goes beyond controlled resources. Entrepreneurship is exactly the ability to outsmart the here and now. Take your troops to the moon, brother.
  2. Technology: The leader of the future needs to be technological. What’s the big deal? The shift is to be serious about exponential technologies, like AI and Blockchain. The most innovative company in the world, according to Rita McGrath, Professor of Strategy at Columbia University, is SAS, whose C-Room meets every Tuesday to discuss how to test new technologies, which could disrupt their current business. Rain or shine, that meeting is done every single week. It’s mandatory to make it a habit, if you want to be at the forefront of innovation, and this must start from the top. Are you an innovator, dear CEO? Show me your agenda on Tuesdays.
  3. Sustainability: A no brainer, we may say. Correct, this is a must do. The big question is how to radically transform a business, having sustainability at the center, from employees and internal processes to the way a company goes to market. It would be enough to look at Buhler, whose Global CTO, Ian Roberts, showed us how every stream of waste is directed to stakeholder, who can reuse, recycle, and upcycle, so that everything remains within the system. The main trigger is not a higher ROI and efficiencies. The driver of this transformation is something more ambitious: it’s the right thing to do. Dear CEO, what would you do if your kids were in the decision room with you? Because they will live the world that you are shaping, without seeing it. Do it for them.
  4. Marketing: by 2030, experts say, Gen Z and Gen Alpha will account for most of the global workforce, and purchasing power, and they do want to have a say in the way businesses are run. Yat Siu, founder and Chairman at Animoca Brands, shows us a new way of running your marketing machine. Let’s listen to the super-fans and share with them the benefits of an augmented social capital, created by the company. A brand’s top 10% fans have millions of ideas, and they are happy to help, if you let them, dear CEO. Time for cooperation, but that ought to be fueled by a fair distribution of rewards. Yes, you heard it, we mean money. Pay those who work for you, no matter where they are, inside and outside the company.
  5. Fear: Yes, fear is a key component of any future business leader. It’s hard for a CEO to show emotions, but current times require that managers investigate their deepest fears, as that discovery forces them to stretch and select the best course of action, sometimes beyond what’s reasonable or usually done. This is what Luca Pannese and Luca Lorenzini, founders at independent creative agency Small, do every day. Being an underdog is a source of fear, and of courage at the same time. This is how they won a Lion at Cannes for their work for Coors Down. Dear CEO, you shall smell your fears to be brave.
  6. Loneliness: Another emotional feat, which is also and usually mistaken for weakness. Face it, you are alone. Dear CEO, you are the last station of the decision train and, as a matter of fact, you must make your most difficult decisions alone, amid ambiguity, and take full responsibility for them. This is what a manager does. Most often than not scenario analyses and consensus building are useless, or there is no time for them. The mitigation of what may seem like a daunting task is that victory and failure are liars, as Julio Velasco, the most successful volleyball coach every existed, told us. You must work on yourself, with tremendous discipline. You are never done. Every victory is followed by a new year, a new competition, a new game, where you must prove your worth. Come prepared to that decision moment, dear CEO. Shoot, and get up again, if you missed the target.
  7. Culture: There are a million definitions of culture. What we mean here is the ability to penetrate the organization with new ways of working, executed in sync with multiple stakeholders, so that execution and delivery are spotless and consistent overtime. Think of a kitchen staff, which needs to serve the most delicious dishes, every single time, with no deviation from perfection. This is what Matteo Sivero, the youngest Michelin starred Chef on the planet, learned, the hard way. Working on yourself is not enough. You need to create a war chest for the organization to learn and give people time to become perfect. Dear CEO, do you know how you succeed? Slowly. The music of true culture is a slow and intimate dance. Jump in.
  8. Empathy: Another emotional suggestion? Yes, indeed. This characteristic is a matter of attention, namely the ability to prioritize the ‘us’ before the ‘I’. We heard it from Gino Strada, the founder of Emergency, whose goal is to eradicate war from the world, besides providing medical care in areas affected by warfare. The broader ‘us’ goes on top of the single fan, consumer, and persona that you are trying to serve with your products and services. Dear CEO, delight the one, while making sure everyone else doesn’t suffer because of that. That entails care. Do you care? Now, you must.
  9. Women: We won’t be a fully equal society, until we design spaces that could perfectly function if 100% of women were in charge. How do we design our succession planning, our restrooms, our meetings, our tables, and chairs? Do we think of women when we do that? Do we give them a chance? This is the question raised by Chantal Gaemperle, CHRO at LVMH, who is working towards a 50/50 split between women and men in management positions, with full P&L responsibility. This is the starting point for a company that will have no problem in thriving, no matter what gender their managers are. Dear CEO, if you are not a woman yet, think like one.
  10. Essence: Is there anything that doesn’t change at all, in these ever-changing times? Yes, the ‘what’ you want out of your business. We look at Coco Chanel, and her tailleur. When it was launched, it collected very bad reviews. But nobody is in the liking business. Businesses sell. Chanel was selling a credo: a woman is not confined in the bridge between bedroom and kitchen, but that she is 100% equal to any man. The tailleur liberates all women out there from their subordinate position and shows what they are capable of. Dear CEO, do you know why you are in business, and what you are truly selling? Go back to the essence of what you do, and act accordingly.

Hope this helps. These principles will make you more technological, sustainable, cooperative, and open minded. CEO Confidential is not a secret anymore. And we couldn’t be happier.

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Written by Francesco Pagano.

Have you read?
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insights - Ten ‘commandments’ for future CEOs
Francesco Pagano
Francesco Pagano, Senior Partner at Jakala, Shareholder and Contributor at Il Sole 24 Ore, MIA at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), 20+ years of Sales & Marketing in corporate and start-up world.


Francesco Pagano is an Executive Council member at the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.