March 6, 2017 - Blog

Role change to CEO

Justin Keatinge's post last Monday Career Change for CEO on his move to the Board and my promotion to CEO prompted some to wonder if this might be another case of PWC opening the wrong envelope. Perhaps he meant to say Emma Stone was the new CEO? (Not that I’d object to that outcome personally).

On a more serious note, my discussions with Justin over the last few months has really made me pause for thought and consider my own comfort zone and capabilities. Progressing to become CEO of Version 1 was not something that I expected nor anticipated. That’s not down to any lack of ambition – more that we’ve created a culture within Version 1 of delegation and autonomy, where people (such as me) are given the authority and responsibility of running individual lines of business. I’ve always felt we’ve had loads of CEOs in the business – and that’s been key to our growth.

Officially though, there’s only one CEO and the question then became did I want it? If anyone had asked me 12 months ago, the answer would have been an excited ‘when can I start?’ but when an opportunity is re-categorised from hypothetical to immediate, it makes you look at things in a completely new light.

When you start to think about the responsibility of taking on a rapidly growing company, that has established itself as a Great Place to Work with over 900 people and a Customer Satisfaction rating that sets us apart with over €100m in revenues – it starts to appear a pretty daunting proposition.

So I did have to think seriously about it. But when I did think about it, I came back to those core values that underpin everything we do in Version 1. ‘Drive & Personal Commitment’ are two of our 6 core values, and in the end I felt I wouldn’t be living (and certainly not inspiring) our values were I to pass up this opportunity.

Since the news became public lots of people have asked me how I felt about it. My answer has generally included the term ‘bricking it’! However, the rational side of my brain kicks in at that point and asks me what’s to worry about?

Most times when a CEO hands over the reins, there’s a negative reason – something isn’t working, plans aren’t being delivered on. That’s transparently not the case here and that’s what’s really unusual about the situation I find myself in; I don’t have to come in with an agenda of ‘making Version 1 great again’, or a huge transformation programme to restore us to health.

For me it’s more a case of ‘Preserve the Core, and Stimulate Progress’.

Preserving the Core means that lots of things won’t change – our core values, our mission, our relentless focus on customer satisfaction and staff engagement (resulting in our 6th successive top 10 finish in the Great Place to Work awards recently). These are constants which I will be relentless in preserving and they will be here long after I’ve passed on the reins to my successor.

But no CEO can sit back and rely on what has brought you success in the past to do the same in the future, past performance being no guarantee… and all that. So inevitably there will be some change, but only change that will Stimulate Progress (and if there is anyone reading this who believes they can help stimulate progress please contact me).

I firmly believe we’ve built something special in Version 1, a uniqueness based on a Version 1 way of doing things that helps differentiate us. Most services companies struggle to answer the question ‘what’s unique about you’, we don’t and I believe we have truly created something special, a Version 1 way that covers staff, customers and financial performance. My job is to continue to build and strengthen that brand and, as a customer focussed CEO, to lead the next phase of our growth, not just in the UK and Ireland, but eventually across Europe, while ensuring that we never lose sight of our Mission – to make a real difference to our customers’ businesses.

So as the carefully selected transition date of 1st April approaches for #Jexit, I’m confident but nervous, excited but a teeny bit scared, ambitious yet cautious but above all else honoured and privileged to be taking on the reins of this great company that will forever be imprinted with the brilliance, genius and vision of its co-founder Justin Keatinge.

I used to joke with Justin that the CEO position in Version 1 was the easiest job in the company – I’ll soon find out, and I’ll try to let you know how I get on.

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