Be the change: Reflections on 100 days as CEO

Friday marked 100 days since I took on this role as CEO of Redington – “the best job in the industry” – as one of our clients put it.

They say that during his first 100 days in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt “sent 15 messages to Congress, guided 15 major laws to enactment, delivered 10 speeches, held press conferences and cabinet meetings twice a week, conducted talks with foreign heads of state, sponsored an international conference, made all the major decisions in domestic and foreign policy, and never displayed fright or panic and rarely even bad temper.”
– Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Age of Roosevelt

I didn’t have a specific 100 day plan and I’m not sure 100 days is quite as valuable a period for assessment as the hype suggests.

Fortunately, I’m not in Roosevelt’s shoes, though, I did feel these were big shoes to fill. The job description I proposed for the Redington CEO, 10 years after the company was founded by entrepreneurs like Robert Gardner and Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, was to grow the culture, capability and infrastructure to move us closer to our ultimate goal of making 100 million people financially secure.

We currently help just over 1 million people achieve greater financial security primarily through our Defined Benefit pensions business. Against the backdrop of pension fund disasters, our clients continue to perform well. They manage their funds with discipline. Rather than spending lots of time forecasting the future, our clients work hard to ensure they are more resilient, whatever happens.

We regularly ask ourselves: what client problems we can solve better; what unmet or un-articulated needs could we fulfil; what legacy methods or systems should be challenged? The next 10 years could see us enter new geographies, start new business lines and/or adopt new technologies. Above all, we will need to test new ideas, empathise, innovate and take risks. This is Redington’s ‘game’.

Rob and Dawid have been clear about their longer term ambitions ‘game’ too. So far though, I have not talked much about my dream or mission. It’s always a bit scary sharing your dream, it makes you vulnerable and open to criticism. Being more vulnerable was my New Years resolution, so here goes…

My dream

I often feel frustrated by and critical of leaders in the industry, the country and the world. This has not been helped by the post referendum leadership vacuum, the disenchantment of the ‘leave’ voters and wider leadership issues around the world.

I have to keep my chimp in check by remembering that
– “the only person you can change is yourself”.

This reflection is what motivated me to take on leadership and to try and be a different kind of leader. I haven’t fully defined it yet, but I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. We need more leaders that are empathetic and compassionate, that consult widely but are decisive, that take risks in an agile/iterative way and treat people fairly.

“The world has never wanted leaders less, but needed leaders more. It has never mistrusted leaders more, but wanted direction so badly. It has never been more cynical about leadership, but been more in accord that things shouldn’t continue just as they are. Leadership is in deep, serious, and historic trouble today. It needs radical reinvention .”
– Umair Haque, author of Leadership in the Age of Rage.

As Simon Kuper argued in the FT last weekend, the referendum has highlighted the need for leaders that will listen more than they talk and that can empathise and engage with ordinary people. We need leaders with a long term horizon, values and principles that can be trusted, embodying their message with passion and delivering it authentically.

I want to try and be a different kind of leader. One that is vulnerable, open and bold. A leader with patience and humility. I want to shine the spotlight on those around me (there are so many incredible people around me that I would love to put under a microscope, so we can all learn from them). I want spend my time and energy challenging myself and helping to develop other people’s potential, to become our best selves, so that we may create, imagine, rebel, defy, dare, build and grow.

I have no idea how far I’ll get with this and at times it terrifies me, but this is a game worth playing for me – win, lose or draw.

Priorities & goals

I journal daily, set weekly goals and review lessons/progress each quarter and year.

Here’s a summary of my key weekly goals and priorities over the past 100 days:

  1. 5th April – management team to share longer term strategy 
  2. 11th April – all staff invited to contribute to 1 year roadmap 
  3. 18th April – explore ideas/suggestions from across the business 
  4. 25th April – promotions committee to approve promotions
  5. 2nd May – agree 1 year roadmap with Rob, Dawid and management team 
  6. 9th May – communicate 1 year roadmap to all staff
  7. 16th May – bonus and compensation review 
  8. 23th May – set quarterly objectives and share with the whole firm
  9. 30th May – review team-by-team priorities
  10. 6th June – identify and develop leaders within teams
  11. 13th June – celebrate Redington’s 10th birthday 
  12. 20th June – update pensions policy and working hours 
  13. 27th June –  review business and strategy implications of Brexit
  14. 4th July – explore organic and inorganic growth options
  15. 11th July – redesign performance & development reviews 

Rob asked me last week if I was having fun.

Whilst I have loved the role, the last few weeks have been a bit tough. If happiness is the journey and not the destination, it is really important to regularly check-in with ourselves and ensure we are enjoying what we do.

Brexit

The referendum result to leave Europe was a surprise and left a number of people feeling deflated.

I was personally surprised by the extent of the national divisions and concerned about the environment we will raise our children in. We should, however, avoid any knee-jerk reactions. London won’t become closed, less cosmopolitan and inward overnight.

We feel reassured that our business is resilient. The majority of our revenues are long term retained, our clients are happy and loyal, and our shareholders are supportive with a long time horizon. Also there will be opportunities in this that we will aim to capture.

We are an entrepreneurial firm. Entrepreneurial people deal with the world as it is, rather than how they’d like it to be. Those that thrive in uncertainty are the ones that are open to new information, seek to understand, react and respond to change. We must be agile, decisive and bold.

My leadership journey

I think it is a myth that a new leader can be judged in the ‘first 100 days’. There is still so much to do and even more to learn. Either way I have found it a valuable opportunity to reflect, review and refresh.

The past 100 days have flown by. I’m really glad I wrote a few blogs at key milestones. They help me remember how I felt at various points along this journey and ensure I don’t forget lessons learnt along the way:

To remain entrepreneurial and innovative as we grow, we have to prioritise our people and culture. The heart of innovation is a desire to change the world. Innovation starts with the heart—with a passion for improving the lives of those around you.

If we want to make 100 million people financially secure – we need to reach people, young and old, who feel left behind and need help. We need to listen, empathise, understand their worldview, develop trust and convey our messages in a narrative that engages and facilitates change.

Gandhi famously said
“Be the change you want to see in the world”.

To lead others we have to start by leading ourselves. We need to cultivate those inner qualities of empathy, compassion, candour, risk-taking, perseverance, purpose and passion .

I’ve pasted the leadership manifesto (below) I drew up ahead of the interview a few months ago and have kept in mind to help me stay focused and on track.

It’s so easy to get lost in being busy (it happens to me all the time), but busy is no replacement for being productive or doing what is most important. I find this bigger dream helps me stay focused on what I am here to do.Mitesh Leadership Manifesto

One thought on “Be the change: Reflections on 100 days as CEO”

  1. As always an entertaining, insightful and educational post Mitesh. Thanks for sharing.

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