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So You Want to Be a CEO?

By Ken Banta of The Vanguard Network

That was the focus of the Vanguard Forum for Healthcare Leaders, Europe, this past February.

The location was Mercers’ Hall, a majestic guild hall in the City of London. We brought together around 85 senior management delegates to spend a day with current and former CEOs, Board members and leadership experts.  In a series of intimate sessions and dialogues, we covered real-world challenges for CEOs and C-Suite executives, from working with the Board, to building a high performance top team, to leading on societal issues.

We are entering the fourth year of Vanguard since I founded it in New York City in 2014, but this was the inaugural Forum in Europe. So I was eager to hear what delegates thought about it. An acid test is to ask whether participants would recommend an experience to their peers. We asked that tough question – and 97% of the London delegates said they would! That was so good it was a bit astonishing. But we double-checked the numbers, and that’s what it was.

What makes the Vanguard Forums such a hit? I think it comes down to relevance, and effectiveness.  From the beginning the unique mission of the Forum has been to develop the next generation of top leaders, giving them insights and experience in the special capabilities required for success as a CEO and C-Suite executive. 

What we’ve realized is that moving from senior leadership to top leadership demands a whole new toolkit – yet executives often get little effective development support in making the jump. And rather than go at this with theory or classroom learning, the Vanguard Forums are centered on real-world insights from the top. 

We had plenty of unvarnished insights – including ones I find particularly important: lessons learned from mistakes.  Among the distinguished faculty were Goran Ando, Chairman of Novo Nordisk, Andrew Jack of the Financial Times, Bruno Strigini, CEO of Novartis Oncology, Professor Trevor Jones, CBE of King’s College London, Vivek Ramaswamy of Roivant Sciences, and Ram Charan, the celebrated leadership expert.

The Forum was one full day, but the learning carries on. A year-long curriculum includes digital learning, videos on leadership, and invitations to intimate dinners on more top leadership topics.

Someone asked me, what the best moments of the Forum were. That was impossible to answer. But a couple things were very memorable. One was the facilitated session on ‘knowing yourself as a leader’, when I overheard one delegate say “I have figured out my weaknesses. But where are my strengths?” Another was when Ram Charan shared feedback from dozens of CEOs on their biggest challenge on the job. Strategy? No. It was disruptive executives on their top team, who threatened performance and should have been removed long ago.

The next Vanguard Forum is planned for New York City in the fall.


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