The evolution of the tech CEO’s role in China

The role of “tech CEO” is relatively new but nowadays it has gained great importance. For us as a headhunting firm, it has been very interesting to analyze how this role has evolved to the rapidly changing economic environment, especially in a country like China, where some of the world’s leading technology companies are located and where business growth is fast and aggressive.

This situation has strongly shaped the way of thinking about leadership and helped to reshape tech CEOs’ business vision and strategy. This therefore has had an effect on headhunting companies that have had to adapt to the new meaning of a “tech CEO”

Although many tech company founders are innovative and have a strong vision, they often lack the operational knowledge to lead rapidly growing companies. When this time comes headhunting companies need to find a leader to help the client successfully navigate through that process in such a difficult market.

This trend of “tech CEO” in China, being more focused on strategy and not so comfortable or skilled in operational shores, has led to the CEO profile required for this kind of company to be more execution-oriented.

In our daily work as a headhunting firm, when looking for CEOs in China (especially for these kinds of companies), we have realized that the most common challenges to the role are:

  • They must put a great number of resources including time to handle the company’s recruitment necessities.
  • Volatile market in which operation can be often affected
  • Talent shortage

These challenges are mostly operational, which consumes a lot of time and makes it almost impossible for CEOs to dedicate the proper time to think about the long term and the general strategy of the companies they are leading. This reinforces the idea of having the leadership role shared, where the vision is often held by the founder who closely works with the figure of a more execution-oriented CEO. It is amazing how this symbiosis has been created and adapted out of the traditional roles to succeed in the new economic environment.

In the headhunting work we do, we see many specific skills needed for a CEO role, many of which vary with each company. But, according to our experience as headhunting firm specialized in China, we identify some hard and soft skills common for the tech CEO role in China. These are:

Soft skills:

  • Execution driven
  • Good communication skills
  • Problem-solver
  • Time management
  • Decision-making

Hard Skills:

  • English
  • Legal and Financial knowledge
  • Cross-functional business plan (Operations, Finance, Marketing, etc.)
  • HR Knowledge
  • Knowledge of technology
  • Knowledge of BU (positioning, distribution channel, sales force, production, pricing)

In conclusion, in order for founders to focus on strategic matters and planning for the long term, they need the support of more operational day-to-day management CEOs that can oversee the short-term execution. This takes a great amount of time and, as we have seen as a headhunting firm, often represents one of the biggest challenges for any CEO, who often see themselves without time to look at the big picture due to operational fires.

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