CEOs of many leading companies employ a ‘Strategic Assistant’ as a right-hand. They are the CEO’s eyes, ears and problem-solver across the business. It’s a very popular role for consultants as a stepping stone into industry and a seniority accelerator in that company.
This sounds like a fascinating role – but it’s difficult to picture exactly what it entails and therefore whether it might be a good option for you.
Fear not – help is on hand! We’ve been busy interviewing successful young professionals who are currently in this job. We’ll publish a series of articles in which they will bring the role – good bits and bad bits – to life.
For this, our second article in the series, we’ve interviewed the Strategic Assistant to the CEO for one of the UK’s largest retailers.
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE AS STRATEGIC ASSISTANT TO THE CEO ENTAIL?
Four areas of focus:
- Analysing business performance (e.g. analysing drivers of an underperforming category
- Assessing strategic opportunities (e.g. analysing and scoping a new corporate initiative
- Supporting the business planning process (e.g. coordinating the development of the annual business plan)
- Structuring high-impact and creative communications (e.g. writing analyst presentations for external results, preparing keynote presentations for internal conferences)
WHAT COMPETENCIES/STRENGTHS ARE MOST HELPFUL IN THE ROLE?
The required skill set is similar to that of a strategy consultant; however, there is a particularly high requirement for strong communication skills and creativity as, in addition to strategic and performance analytics, the role supports the CEO and Executive team in engaging with multiple external and internal stakeholders.
The core competencies/strengths which are helpful in the role are:
- Creative thinking
- Great at building professional relationships across all levels of the organisation
- Highly analytical and structured
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Understanding of accounting/corporate finance
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST / LEAST ABOUT THE ROLE?
The most attractive parts of the role are:
- Exposure to priority business issues
- Opportunity to learn from a senior executive team
The least attractive parts of the role are:
- There is no responsibility for a budget or a team
- There is limited opportunity to see projects through to completion – initiatives kicked off by the CEO’s office are typically handed over to the relevant business lead after diagnosing and scoping and phases
WHAT OPPORTUNITIES HAS / WILL THE ROLE OPEN UP FOR YOU?
The role has been a fantastic opportunity to build an understanding of how an FTSE 50 business functions and how senior executives operate. It has enabled me to become familiar with the major initiatives and performance drivers in the business and to build a strong network within the organisation. It has the potential to be a great career stepping stone into an exciting operational role within the business.
It has been a chance to refine the skills I developed as a consultant and complement this with deeper exposure to the operations of a major corporate, rather than to learn a radically different skill set.
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR ANYONE CONSIDERING THE ROLE?
The role is essentially a career stepping stone lasting 12 to 24 months – it is not an end in itself. Consequently, make sure it is a stepping stone to somewhere you want to go. Make sure you’re excited by the industry and the business you’ll be working in and can see yourself working in the sector and ideally the business for the medium to long term.
You must be able to see yourself working well with the CEO – you’ll only support them effectively if you get along and they’ll only help you access future opportunities if you build a strong relationship. Working style is clearly a very personal thing, so make sure you see a good fit, otherwise, it will not be good for the CEO and will not be good for you.
It’s a great role but there are always trade-offs – make sure you’re comfortable with them. If your background is in consulting, the role is less likely to be broadening but will give you a deeper understanding of an industry and the way senior executives operate – you may not learn a lot of new skills but you will have a great experience. Make sure you’re comfortable with the trade-off compared with say developing finance and valuation skills through a role in PE or banking or team management skills through a line management role.
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