Building a management team: The secret to a successful leader

What is the Secret of a Successful Leader?

4 minute read

When CEOs enter a private equity-backed business, they will rarely find a management team they are 100% happy with.  Putting it bluntly: without a team that works hard and smart, whilst also buying into company culture and ethos, businesses can flounder.

“The single most important job a CEO can do for his business? Put together a great team.”

Humphrey Cobbold, PureGym CEO and PEPTalks Founder Member


PEPTalks founder CEOs talk at length about how to find the right people and how to make sure they buy into their vision.

We’ve distilled some of their top tips in the following blog.

A mindful team-building approach

Before you start looking at specific hires, it’s crucial to consider your approach to the recruitment process. The people you hire into management positions could make or break your company, so you need to identify and establish the characteristics and experience you want, and settle for nothing less.

“Have courage, recruit good people – better people than you think you might need. You might as well shoot for the stars.”

Humphrey Cobbold, PureGym CEO

So, if you are shooting for the stars, it follows that a quick win may not be the right approach.  Clearly CEOs want their businesses to move to the next stage as fast as possible, but building the right team cannot be rushed.  After all, once the best people are in place, a business will be able to accelerate and achieve the success its CEO is targeting, with far greater speed.

This more mindful style of team-building was the method Steve Weller used when he was CEO at uSwitch, during a time of substantial growth,

“Our average time to hire would be twice the market norm because we would be holding out for the right individuals.”

Finding Unicorns

When it’s time to focus on the individual, our PEPTalks CEOs tend to ask two key questions:

  1. Does the candidate have the right work ethic and personality to fit into the company?

Humphrey Cobbold maintains, “You want someone who is ready to do real work in the business and not just orchestrate other people”.

And he warns, “Be suspicious of people whose experience in the job comes from big companies, as quite often they’ll have been well supported by the processes and the machine that sits around them.  Unfortunately, this means that when they come into a smaller, private-equity backed company, with less support, they start to fail”.

  1. Does the candidate have the right skill set to perform the job well?

Chris Nellerman, Founder and CEO of XLN Telecom, explains that as private-equity companies perform best as flat organisations, they need people who can, Get in there, get in the detail, understand the business, know every KPI and have the right skill set to ensure it all works together”.

Like Humphrey, Steve Weller advises CEOs to avoid managers who have had an easy run of things, sitting at the top of their company, “You want someone who has made mistakes and gone through the learning curves; someone who has realised the good and the bad”.

As Steve puts it, it’s all about “finding unicorns”.  For him that was discovering developers who could, “code, but also be product managers and think about the whole infrastructure of the company”.

In private equity, the importance of finding dynamic, multi-talented people who are also able to see the big picture, is more significant than ever.

Achieving team balance

Another key point to address when building your team, is how they are going to work together. You can hire several game-changing individuals but if their personalities don’t match, you may find yourself at a flashpoint further down the line.

“You need to think about the balance of individuals: when you’re assembling a team that’s going to work together in management, you need a mix of capabilities and skills. Some are better at starting things and some are better at finishing them. Some people are more considered and will take time over decisions, whilst others will say, ‘let’s just get on and do this’. You need a combination of all these types of people in a management team.”

Humphrey Cobbold, PureGym CEO

Empower your managers

Of course, your job isn’t over once the hiring is done. You need to make sure your managers can perform to the highest standard and leave their mark on the company.

As Steve Weller says,

“This comes from expressing a culture of responsibility to your management team, by giving them autonomy, freedom and the permission to make their own decisions. They love the sense of ownership because it motivates them. When problems occur, they want to go out there and fix them. That’s when you know you’ve found your unicorns.”