A month ago, my boss Martin announced that I was the new CEO of HomeServe Membership Limited (‘HML’) as he took on a broader UK role. HML is the main HomeServe business in the UK with over two million Customers and three thousand People. In the next year we will complete about 1.5 million jobs in our Customers’ homes and collect hundreds of millions in premiums. We are one of the 15 best places to work for marketers in the UK according to Marketing Week, the 3rd best place to work as rated by Glassdoor, and UKCSI has told us we are the most improved services company in the last five years. It’s an incredible role at a wonderful company and I was truly humbled to be asked to take over the reins from Martin, I know I have a lot to live up to.
Interestingly, I have had a few People ask me recently if I always wanted to be the CEO, if it was a goal when I joined HomeServe or even in previous jobs. This question made me reflect on the career journey I’ve been on, but perhaps more importantly, about the time I really began to think about how far I could actually go.
I never knew how to answer that interview question about where I wanted to be in five years. I knew that I wanted to work in a big Customer-facing company and that I wanted to be in the room when critical decisions were made. But beyond this there was no certain role that I had in mind. I just wanted to progress, do well and give my family a good life. I can however remember the moment that I first thought about being the CEO.
It was 2007 and I had just been promoted to my first big job in marketing at MBNA after starting out my career in law and finance. My new boss Hugh Chater, who at the time was MD of MBNA’s UK business, asked to see me for a chat. We sat down in his incredibly large and intimidating office. He was behind a huge antique desk and I was in one of the two plush wing back chairs arranged as a set in front of the desk. The carpet was deep and the walls were covered with two dozen gold framed landscapes. The room was full of furniture that was a mix of real antiques and some pretty good reproductions. I thought we would talk about what he wanted me to get done in my new role as Director of Marketing. Instead after a few pleasantries he pointed to the wall behind him at the next office which happened to be the CEO’s and asked what I thought it would take for me to be the CEO one day. I told him that I wasn’t sure and that I’d never really thought about it.
He said, in his words, that I was one of a handful of People out of the thousands in the company who had a chance to do it. He said I was very strong when it came to commercial skills and that he felt I was equally emotionally intelligent although slightly less developed on that side. Once the shock of the question was over – and it was a shock - I told him that I’d never had a really big operational team, that I wasn’t sure that an introvert who is a bit on the quiet side could lead, for example, a big call centre. He then steered the conversation back to reality and we talked about my first 100 days in the job. A few weeks later he told me that my current remit would expand to include our European telemarketing division of 1,500 People. I was on my way.
It is strange to think that one single question changed the direction of my career but it did. I can remember that moment and the after effects. My right brain was fully engaged as I began thinking about what kind of CEO I’d be and how I’d make the job my own. I began to ask others what I needed to do to get ready.
And so the point of my post is this: do you ever ask your People what they need to achieve the potential you see in them? Or before this, do you tell them how far you think they can go? You should, as it may just be a moment they will never forget: they might be a future CEO.
I’ve had many other bosses, mentors, and sponsors who have helped me along the way. I’ll share a few more of their insights over the next few posts.