Rob PolstonRob Polston started out as a financial analyst working in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Five years into a banking career and father to a young family, he decided to enrol on an MBA programme.

This was a turning point in a career which has since led to rewarding professional opportunities and his current role as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) within a world-leading online learning organisation.

Speaking at a global webinar for ambitious professionals interested in moving forward in their career, Rob shared three tips on how to become a successful CEO:

  1. Diversify your skill base
    “Solidify what you know and explore new areas, through study and in your career”. Rob has had over ten different jobs roles in his professional life to date, working in areas ranging from mergers and acquisitions, senior leveraged lending, venture capital, private equity, to operations (as COO) and his current role of CEO. Pulling different skills together in a consistent way gives you the decision-making processes necessary to be successful.
  2. Act like a CEO, now – no matter what your role
    Rob tells each one of his leaders throughout his organisation that they are CEOs. What he means is – “don’t let organisational structures inhibit your desire or ability to make everything you do for the company better than it was before you were hired”. So whether you manage a small or a large team or have no staff reporting directly to you, act like a CEO – have a vision, a plan and execute to make your part of the business the best possible.
  3. Have a long-term view
    Success doesn’t happen overnight. Rob firmly believes that aspirations can be achieved over time if you dream big, work hard to achieve your goals, and surround yourself with great people.

MBA as a turning point

Having a master's in business administration is often considered to be beneficial for graduates wanting to move ahead in a competitive job market. This sought-after postgraduate qualification turned out to be important to Rob’s career progression for these four reasons:

  1. It reinforced technical skills that he was learning on the job not only in business valuation but in areas such as corporate governance and innovation.
  2. He started to apply new business models and thinking in his daily work and, as a result, brought about positive change.
  3. He collaborated with a wide range of people from different professional backgrounds, making connections that have led to fruitful business relationships and are still relevant today.
  4. The MBA programme helped Rob develop personally. For example, halfway through his MBA, he realised that he wanted to work more on the corporate side of acquisitions, in a specific industry rather than on multiple transactions. “It disrupted my thinking about who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go,” he said.

Three key CEO roles

At executive level, leaders need to adopt a confident and adaptable strategic approach that will ensure their organisation thrives in a changeable environment. As Rob says, “CEOs need to build a culture that embraces and rewards change, innovation and agility”.

Rob identifies three key attributes or roles of a successful CEO:

Forward-thinking disrupter

Successful CEOs need to be constantly looking out for risks and opportunities for their businesses. They must be willing to be forward-thinking disrupters – keeping ahead of changes brought on by new technology and international competition. A CEO needs to build an agile culture that embraces change and innovation.

Evangelist

Successful CEOs are “evangelists” for their business and should have an unshakeable point of view about the future of their organisation. Successful CEOs have a clear vision, a strong business case and are focused on achieving a long-range goal while convincing and leading their people and external partners.

Designer

Successful CEOs are designers of great organisations. They design their organisation to meet the challenges of different stages of development and then recruit and develop great talent. They recognise the talent they have in their teams and make sure that people reach their full potential.

Rob Polston is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the University of Europe Laureate Digital and Laureate Partners, online learning partner of the University of Liverpool.

Hear more from Rob by listening to a recording of the Secrets of a Successful CEO webinar.

The University of Liverpool is a world-class institution ranked in the top 1% of universities worldwide and is a member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of 24 research-led universities.


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