Aiming for the top

A guide for aspiring COOs and their organizations

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Any operations leader should be able to demonstrate the seven core capabilities outlined in the previous chapter. However, these things alone are not sufficient to provide a ticket to the C-suite. What emerged within the in-depth interviews conducted for this report was a further set of six less tangible characteristics, which will help today’s operations experts stand out from their peers as genuine COO candidates for tomorrow. We call them the “X” factors.

Interdepartmental knowledge: bringing both depth and breadth

Aspiring COOs must do all that is possible to build a career that involves close exposure to different parts of the business. Cross-departmental experience “gives the ability to comprehend how business is done,” explains Nous Infosystems’ COO Buddadeb Das Gupta.

International experience: identifying and exploiting best practices from around the world

Adcock Ingram Healthcare’s Kofi Amegashie spent 12 years in Asia as part of an early management program at Chevron, before spending time in South Africa and Nigeria. “You do it because it adds the richness both technically and culturally to your ability to deal with situations,” he says.

Leadership skills: being an effective influencer and motivator

It’s very important to create an effective team around you and to work with it. You can’t keep control of everything on your own, so you need to work with the team, and be able to delegate,” states E.ON Energia’s General Manager Luca Alippi.

Flexibility: succeeding in an ever-changing reality

You need to be a curious person, which means never stopping at the first answer, but trying to understand what could be next and how it could be done better. The final stage of this is the ability to think out of the box, and to find solutions that others haven’t identified,” believes Stefano Venier, Hera General Manager for Development and Markets.

Courage: stepping up to the challenge

Get out of your comfort zone. Be thrown into marketing, into other operations, and find out if you sink or swim,” advises André Joubert, CE for African Rainbow Minerals Ferrous Division. 

Sociability: mastering the networks and politics

As a COO, you need to win hearts and minds, you need everybody behind you,” adds Fernridge Consulting COO Stephen Walters. Top COOs are usually tough, but they are also approachable. They understand that strong social and interpersonal skills are a vital part of what they bring to the table, and keep the door open to others at all levels of the organization.