Tough markets spark demand for versatile leaders

JANUARY 25, 2016

As the global economic outlook gets bleaker by the day, with the South African market following suit while battling its own additional and unique challenges, companies increasingly want to appoint versatile leaders with a track record of penetrating new markets and identifying alternative revenue streams, an expert says.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of leading executive search firm Jack Hammer, says the patterns in hiring of top leaders are different during high-growth and moderately comfortable cycles compared to harsh conditions.

“During difficult economic times, there really is nowhere to hide, and senior leaders are called upon to prove their worth more so than would otherwise be the case,” she says.

With the Rand’s continued volatility, global markets in turmoil, and policy uncertainty, leaders who have proven their level-headedness and ability to grow companies despite external challenges will be in high demand in coming months, Goodman-Bhyat says.

“More than ever before, leaders who are able to drive their organisations through these turbulent times will become very popular with hiring managers and headhunters,” she says.

“Companies now are looking for two specific qualities in their leaders: firstly the ability to streamline internal processes and drive cost effective efficiencies, and secondly, the capability to harness whatever external opportunities there may be to support continued growth.”

Goodman-Bhyat says that post the previous global financial crisis, most companies are already a lot leaner than they used to be.

“And there really is only so much you can cut, lest you chop the propulsion that drives the company in the first place. So what companies now seek are those leaders who can elicit the best from existing resources while at the same time being able to identify and cash in on alternative opportunities.”

Internally, leaders must be able to ensure cost-effectiveness, efficient use of resources, and enhanced customer focus. Additionally, leaders must be able to motivate their workforce and ensure an engaged staff and increased productivity.

When being briefed about their need for these kinds of versatile leaders, there is a strong emphasis on the people leadership aspect of the role – highly developed EQ, strong insight into what motivates and drives people, and a solid sense of compassion and empathy, while also having a hard-nosed commercial instinct.

“The greatest challenge for leaders now is their ability to identify and drive opportunities under trying market conditions, and the biggest driver at the moment, because of our weakened currency, is the move to generating offshore revenue,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

In-demand leaders now will have a demonstrable track record in opening new markets, setting up strategic relationships with partners, identifying alternative distribution channels and introducing new products in new territories.

“A key trend we have noticed is companies investigating alternative revenue opportunities – and leaders need to be able turn these into revenue generating streams in a very short period of time,” she says.