News and Events

Forbes: How CEOs Can Lead A Company Through A Period Of Change

  • October 3, 2018

By Marc Cooper

Marc Cooper is the Chief Executive Officer of PJ SOLOMON, a leading investment banking advisory firm founded nearly 30 years ago.


Change is inevitable in business: companies expand and are acquired, employees leave and new executives are appointed. But there is no bigger test of leadership than becoming a chief executive officer (CEO) during a major period of transition.

Two years ago, I assumed the role of CEO after another company acquired a controlling interest in my firm. Leading an organization through a time of uncertainty is a daunting task in itself, but the added pressures of taking on a highly visible role and easing the concerns of nervous employees, partners and board members — all while learning the ropes of a new position — is a whole different ball game.

Here are a few lessons I learned during this period that helped me navigate the transition:

Look at the big picture.

In my experience, the first thing you have to do is to take a step back.

Like many new leaders, I immediately felt the inclination to push forward and get things done. With a background as an investment banker in mergers and acquisitions, my work has always been very deal-driven and focused on execution.

However, I believe it is essential to fight against this instinct. Before making a move, take the time to study the business and truly understand what you need to do to make it successful within the new environment.

In my case, my firm engaged in a formal strategic review of the business and the industry. We focused on what made our organization successful over the years and what hasn’t worked and why. I believe any executive should become familiar with the good, the bad and the ugly before devising a winning strategy.

Once that is completed, you can then devise a road map and a strategy to execute.

Assess your most important assets — your people.

As famous strategist Jim Collins once explained in his book Good to Great, it is important to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus and then determine where the bus is going.

I believe each one of your employees should fit the expectations you set for the success of the company. A firm may not be successful in recruiting and retaining talented executives if they do not see people of the same caliber around them.

A transition is a time to look at each person, identify those who have not been living up to the standards of the firm, and make the necessary adjustments that will benefit your company in the long term.

Prioritize your culture.

Sometimes CEOs inherit a firm with a great culture that has been supported by employees who have stayed for long periods of time because they enjoyed what they were doing, liked who they worked for, and felt empowered. Other times it’s not that simple.

Often, in a merger or acquisition, two corporate cultures combine into one. It is important to be aware of how this period of transition may cause shifts within your company’s culture and to monitor and address any negative effects.

In a time of transition, continue to be thoughtful about who you bring on board. In my experience, growing a company to stand the test of time cannot be mercenary — I believe it has to be about thoughtful expansion, and hiring the right people is a vital part of that. Our firm, for example, has sacrificed a number of opportunities to grow by not hiring people who were great candidates but who we didn't think would suit our culture.

Consider redefining your brand.

As companies grow and evolve, so should their messaging and branding.

Rebranding can be a way for your company to bridge its history to the future. It can allow you to change your firm's name or established design in order to innovate, reintroduce yourself to existing stakeholders, reach new audiences and set yourself apart from the competition.

If you feel your existing branding does not reflect your firm’s future mission, values and purpose or you want to reach a new demographic, rebranding might be warranted. Alternatively, a subtle change, such as an updated logo or font style, might be sufficient.

Regardless of which direction you take, I believe your organization needs a clear, compelling and coherent vision for a new brand and a focused strategy to execute that vision. However, keep in mind that rebranding campaigns can be a massive undertaking and carry a significant level of risk.

It's most important that your brand continues to evolve with the growth of your company.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Mistakes aren’t always a bad thing.

If you aren’t making mistakes, then it's possible you aren't being aggressive enough in your strategy. Especially when your company is operating in a new environment, mistakes will be inevitable. However, it's crucial to learn from them and improve your process going forward.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned as a CEO during a period of transition is that when something is not working, it is vital to make the necessary corrections as soon as possible. Experience tells me that a successful executive realizes they cannot let ego get in the way of doing the right thing.

As a CEO, your main objective is to do what is best for your company, which often requires admitting to and rectifying your mistakes time and time again.

Read the full article on Forbes.

PJ SOLOMON’s disclaimer