During my 30+ years as a CFO, I’ve worked directly with roughly one hundred CEOs. They are a unique and fascinating breed and over the years, I’ve started to discern some patterns and have tried to segment them into categories. Using the analogy of fine wines, below is a short and wholly unscientific compendium of the personalities you are likely to find in the corner office.
Beaujolais Nouveau – aka the first-time CEO
These CEOs are relatively light in terms of experience but make up for it with their can-do attitudes. They are often the founders of their companies and may have been thrust into the role by default. As with the producers of the young wine, they may race to get their products and services out to the market, sometimes before they are ready (sacré bleu!). Beaujolais nouveau is a wine that celebrates the harvest, and these (often young) CEOs are avid cheerleaders and find ways to celebrate wins with their teams. Best paired with a strong C-Suite or Executive Board member to mentor and lend credibility.
Rosé – aka the sales-oriented CEO
These CEOs range from the light and frivolous to the structured and complex. They’ve had success in the sales function and bring a competitive, goal-oriented approach to their jobs. With notes of hubris and aromas of exaggeration, these CEOs can be highly successful leaders. Much like the wine that can be drunk at any time of day or night (please don’t judge my day drinking tendencies) the Rosé CEO is a hard charger and ready for all challenges. Best paired with a strong CFO/COO who can apply some discipline and realism to the company’s business plan.
Chardonnay – aka the engineering or scientific CEO
Deep sector experts and often polymaths, these CEOs come in a broad range of skills and talents. They are well balanced and sometimes too smart for their own good (think too much oak or buttery taste). The Chardonnay CEOs are confident, well respected and have been aged on the frontlines of their industries. They do not have long shelf lives because the very attributes that make them successful (deep knowledge of the science or technology) also mean they will struggle to delegate and take a broader view of the business. They are meant to be drunk early. Best paired with outward-focused executives such as business development or sales.
Cabernet Sauvignon – aka the mature, serial CEO
These CEOs are respected for their laser focus and seasoning. Though sometimes acidic, they exude confidence, both with their gravitas and experience. They can be expensive, but the right CEO, like the right wine, is priceless.
These CEOs come in with a plan, an established network, including investors, and command respect. Heavyweights in their industries, the Cabernet Sauvignon CEOs have experienced success over their careers and made a lot of people a lot of money. Best paired with an executive team that will execute on the plan and sweat the details.
Port – aka the dictator
The port wine CEO is highly complex with notes of authoritarianism and control. They often build a cult of personality and demand total loyalty. Key to this phenotype is the use of fear as a management tool to drive results. The port CEOs can be successful but have a short shelf life because of their inevitable negative impact on employee turnover. As with the traditional method of stomping grapes, these CEOs run roughshod over their teams.
Though sometimes successful, companies with a Port CEO usually end up with sour grapes. Best paired with a board that can curtail the worst of their excesses.