Navigating the transition from corporate to private

By Philippe Riboton, Managing Director of HR Partners International Executive Search

All senior managers who have transitioned from a corporate business to a privately-owned business – or even a family business – will tell you upfront: it’s a different world out there. Over the years I have supported many senior leaders in the transition from a Fortune 500 company to working for a privately-owned business – even to the CEO seat when the owner wanted to withdraw from the daily management of his/her own company.
And I have seen that working in a privately-owned or family business takes a very different approach – and maybe even a slightly different skill-set – to that required when carrying out the same role in a traditional corporate organization. Here are a few tips from various business leaders to take into account if you are considering transitioning to this type of business.

Martina Grygar Brezinova, a long-time senior executive in the corporate world with Sodexo company, who later on transitioned to become Chief Executive Officer of Zatisi Catering in Prague, now independent business consultant, puts it very clearly: “My number one advice is: understand company culture.”

Jan Slavicek, board of directors strategist with MeDitorial consulting company in Prague, regularly advises company owners in the transition to choosing an executive manager for their business so that they can move to a non-executive director role. He confirms culture is key. “Focus on the business and life values of the owner”, he advises. “Go for a value test. If your values don’t match the owner’s values, then it won’t work.” Another important warning: “make sure you understand what is his/her vision of the transition and clarify the responsibilities – because the company will hardly absorb any misunderstanding between the former and the new leader”.

I have asked two company owners who I supported in the past with senior managerial appointments to their business. Their advice is extremely insightful.

Jean-François Ott, former founder and CEO of Orco Property Group, a real estate development and asset management company, now Chairman at Ott Properties, a family office and investment company, brings an interesting view from the owner’s perspective: “integrating the entrepreneurial company culture versus the culture of a standard corporation is essential”, he says. “Those managers need the capacity to endure that specificity and at the same time have enough empathy to balance the hardship with the hands-on positive stress of entrepreneurs. They need to demonstrate the thirst for growth and the velocity of change.”

Marko Parik, former Chief Executive Officer of United Bakeries, one of the largest bakery companies in Central Europe, very much agrees on the entrepreneurial dimension: “managers who join the privately-owned business need to think and work like entrepreneurs”, he says. “They need to give it all”.

But what’s the benefit for the career of those managers at the end of the day? “They get closer to the sun”, says Marko Parik. “They can prove themselves much faster than in traditional corporate companies. They get a much better chance of understanding the overall picture of a business and the way it operates. In the end they are simply more happy.”