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Three themes from conversations with C-suite clients


Three themes from the C-suite

Recently, I’ve read countless articles stating: ‘The most visionary leaders continue to invest through downturns’. I agree and so too it seems does Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England who said recently: ‘A big shift to digital is underway, and there is little point in waiting’. But I accept it’s a good deal easier to say this when it’s either not your money, or you’re working in a business that isn’t in survival mode due to the financial impact of COVID.

Such is the indiscriminate nature of this pandemic that business models previously deemed perfectly sound before the outbreak have needed to adapt and preserve cash swiftly. I’m hugely sympathetic to this because COVID-19 hasn’t delivered a level playing field so I am adding a caveat that investing for the future can’t apply to every company right now. For some, it’s merely about keeping heads above water.

So what are the three key themes from discussions with my C-suite clients?

Theme 1)    Dealing with the fallout or, in some cases, the opportunity COVID-19 presents

Theme 2)    The threats from digital disruption and the prospects for the ‘digitally invested.’

Theme 3)   Hiring great people remains the biggest constraint to growth

Theme three has been a constant in my 20+ years in executive search with clients struggling to recruit in particular niches. But for this article, we’re talking digital. And to quote Haldane at the Bank of England again: “The business model of the future for many corporations will not be the same as the business model of the past, it will have a much bigger digital dimension to it. Holding off in making that investment in digital kit or skills would not be worthwhile right now, it is worth bringing it forward’’.

This quote perhaps sounds like common sense to most of us based on what we’re reading daily. Everything is about ‘digital’. But a common reaction to times of crisis is to freeze headcount and projects. I’ve certainly done that before as a CEO. Press the pause button, adopt caution, and you’ll not going to get criticised for that. However, research shows that hiring great talent from your competitors is also a sure-fire way to get yourselves into a strong market position when we arrive at our new normal.

There have been occasions – the 2008/09 financial crisis being a prime example – where some companies cut too deep and were unquestionably at a disadvantage relative to their competition when the market recovered. They also found it very hard to hire in an upswing, whereas they should have invested in some fantastic talent that was available 6-12 months earlier.

And I believe we’re seeing that happening again right now.

I could cite numerous companies I have spoken to recently who are either trying to play catch up with their digital hiring or looking to widen the gap with their competition and forge ahead by investing further in digital.

Digital is only going to become a higher priority once we come out the other side of this crisis. And there is a distinct risk that some companies could be even less competitive than they were before because they’ve not been brave enough with digital investments or haven’t got to grip with their data strategy.

In a recent Digital Careers podcast, my guest Gareth Jones, Chief Marketing Officer at Farfetch, discusses how digital change that would previously have occurred over several years has been compressed into a matter of months. Yes, this anecdote has been quoted a good deal these last 4-6 months but it’s a fact and the prolonged nature of COVID means that trend will continue.

Next week in my Digital Careers Thoughts article, I’ll detail 5 things visionary leaders should be doing about their digital hiring right now.


About BartonRock: We are the executive search partner for companies where data-driven digital leadership is intrinsic to growth.

We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to implement and lead data-centric digital agendas.

For more information visit: or contact or call +44 (0) 20 8092 6048.

You can also subscribe to BartonRock’s Digital Careers podcast by visiting Apple Podcasts


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