Building An Executive Management Team: The How-To

Don't waste time– make the right changes to forge the right team.

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Conventional wisdom dictates that that the best performance is attributed to the team with the best talent. Results, however, often do not match this view– in fact, the best examples of mismatch between talent and performance manifests itself in the world of sports.

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Flashback to the 2020 Premier League, Liverpool lifts the coveted trophy high after an unprecedented season. Under the management of Jurgen Klopp, their teamwork eclipsed the better talent in City, United- famously ending the Red Devils’ attempt at a 14th victory. Another example follows the epic failures of the NY Yankees after a US$2 billion payroll. It’s a yearly talking point every October that money, in fact, cannot buy a team success.

So, with that in mind, what should you look for when building an Executive Management Team (EMT) for yourself? For starters, what is the right size? I believe an EMT has to be small. Having a large team to placate different factions or functions is a sure sign of weakness on the CEO. The ideal number is five, and in very exceptional cases, maybe seven.

There are five fundamental principles that have to be satisfied in an EMT for success: chemistry, ability, trust, earnings, and diversity. Let’s run through these in order, keeping note that each is as equally important as the other. 

1. Chemistry It is the CEO’s job to build chemistry or strategic alignment within the team. Behavioral psychologists can analyze profiles with questionnaires and Myers Briggs scores, but CEOs have to determine if you have the right chemistry with each member. No perfect methodology exists for this exercise, but you’ll know it when you see it. Do not compromise on this area– even if Lionel Messi walked in, if there is no chemistry, you are not going to win a team sport. Trust your instincts.

2. Ability The second area is ability. One should never underestimate proven ability in your EMT. Remember that employees can easily surmise who’s gotten in through favoritism or cronyism, and not talent. Also, potential does not equal “able,” especially at the executive level. Proven results are key. Any compromise in this area will send signals down the rest of the organization and reflect poorly on the CEO’s confidence, intelligence and raise doubts around who they choose to surround themselves with. 

3. Trust A critical component for an EMT is trust. A CEO has to be able to vent and share their fears and views openly with the EMT. The CEO should also be comfortable having EMT members substitute for them at events to display trust and conviction in the team. It is optically vital that the CEO is seen to give up the throne to others, even if it isn’t needed- during some press interviews, for example. 

4. Earnings At the end of the day, you are running a business, not a charity. Sometimes EMTs become obsessed with internal meetings and processes, that they forget that profits and earnings matter. That’s why most companies exist. So, the CEO must get the team to focus very clearly on deliverables, metrics, and financials. Forgetting this in order to focus on soft issues will earn you and your team a one-way ticket to the street.

5. Diversity This is a supercritical need of the day– be it gender, race, or orientation, the composition of the EMT reflects the values of a company. There are so many excuses that are often presented to push back the make-up of an EMT. There is no reason for this. It is the CEO’s responsibility to find diverse talent. The motivation that arises when people are able to project their self-image on a leader is mindboggling, and having a homogenous set of leaders will understandably stereotype the leadership.

At the end of the day, when it comes to building an EMT, keep it small, and make sure to have some fun exclusively with them. It’s a select club, but when people see the team running into one another’s offices freely, with peals of laughter emanating from them, they focus on what is needed, and not on how to divide and conquer. A simple routine of taking your morning coffee and walking into any EMT member’s office to have a chat builds a foundation of trust that is very strong. Of course, there are times that CEOs inherit a team and find that some of these parameters are probably not going to work well. Don’t waste time– make the right changes to forge the right team. And lastly, make the team feel valued. The EMT members represent the values of your company, and that needs to be reciprocated, always. 

Related: Sometimes, Founders Need To Step Back And Hand Over Control To A New Team For The Enterprise's Betterment

Dr. Ramesh Ramachandran

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Dr. Ramesh Ramachandran is an innovative entrepreneur and executive leader in the hydrocarbon and chemical sector across the Americas, the Middle East, and India, with extensive experience in transformational stewardship, navigating organizations through periods of accelerated growth. He is adept at forging alliances with global business partners to enhance synergies, drive profit growth, and maximize return on investment. 

Prior to becoming the Principal at MEGVIN Advisors LLC in 2020, Ramesh was the President and CEO of the Kuwait-based EQUATE Petrochemical Company where he realized all-time high earnings of US$2.12 billion, and positioned the company to become the largest non-oil export firm in the country. Before this, he led a global joint venture, MEGLOBAL International, where he leveraged his expertise in chemical products, financial operations, and regulatory compliance to deliver an unprecedented EBITDA exceeding $700 million, and pioneer the world’s first recycled PET product for the bottled water industry. 

Previously serving in key leadership roles at Dow Chemical Company in the USA, Canada, and India, Ramesh is highly skilled in developing and implementing comprehensive strategies based on evolving market environments, relevant geopolitical events, and overarching organizational objectives. His leadership style fosters a collaborative work culture conducive to continuous professional development and performance improvement. Under his tutelage, Ramesh has successfully built leaders and successors from within organizations. 

The author of several technical papers, Ramesh holds a PhD degree in Surface and Colloid Chemistry from Columbia University and an MBA from Rutgers University. Additionally, he is a keynote speaker at various global forums on sustainability and serves as an Executive Board Member for non-profit organizations like the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association, trade associations like the Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association, and the Indian chemical industry.