Leon Ayo, CEO of Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa
Leon Ayo, CEO of Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa

THE CEO for a Day initiative is a global campaign launched by executive search firm Odgers Berndtson that took place in South Africa during September and October for the third year running.

The programme lets business school students from Gauteng and the Western Cape walk in the shoes of some of South Africa’s leading CEOs within the private sector across various industries. The students gain first-hand experience in understanding not only the level of responsibility that C-Suite executives hold but also how they create value for their organisations.

Leon Ayo, CEO of Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa, says: “A key lesson for the students is what it really takes to be a CEO, such as having less technical skill and more around developing characteristics such as resilience, tenacity and how to get the most out of people. Many are surprised at how many of the CEOs come from similar backgrounds, and this can be very inspirational.”

Students went through a rigorous recruitment process, including online assessments and face-to-face interviews with consultants from Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa. During this process, students were also given feedback on their interview and presentation skills. From this process, 10 of the top candidates were selected to spend the day with the CEOs, providing a unique chance to learn about the backgrounds, career paths, concerns and motivations of today’s leaders.

CEOs themselves have the chance not only to get to grips with the challenges and opportunities that potential future employees and future leaders face, but also to develop a better understanding of what some of their expectations are when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder.

Read more about this Odgers Berndtson initiative.
“We need to ensure the boardroom can engage staff at all levels and extract more from talent across the organisation. This segment is normally below the radar of the C-suite, making the programme useful for CEOs to experience first-hand a broader picture of the talent landscape,” says Ayo.

Odgers Berndtson first launched the initiative in Germany 12 years ago, subsequently rolling it out across offices in other countries and regions including Scandinavia, Spain, Finland, Brazil, Belgium and Canada. Including the South African programme, almost 350 organisations and more than 700 CEOs and students will have participated in the programme, generating a wealth of insight on the changing nature of leadership. The UK joined the programme for the first time this year.

CEOs and business schools

Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa would like to thank both the CEOs and business schools for their ongoing support and participation in this year’s initiative.

Participating business schools: Henley Business School, Gordon Institute of Business Science, University of Stellenbosch Business School, UCT Graduate School of Business.

Participating CEOs: Zoona: Mike Quinn; Monash South Africa: Esther Benjamin; KFC: Doug Smart; I&J: Jonty Jankovich-Besan; Clicks Group: David Kneale; G4S: Mel Brooks; British American Tobacco: Soraya Zoueihed; Royal Bafokeng Holdings: Albertinah Kekana; Lindt South Africa: Sandro Weber; Maersk Line: Jonathan Horn; Tracker South Africa: Wayne De Nobrega.

What do Odgers Berndtson members around the world think of CEO for a Day?

Canada: Eric Beaudan, leadership practice director

“This has proved a unique opportunity for CEOs and students to bridge the generational gap ... the upcoming generation is significantly larger and has different expectations and a unique perspective of what they want and expect from leadership. I think it’s really helped us understand how this might play out and how best to give organisations advice.”

Germany: Klaus Hansen, managing partner

“CEOs taking part are all fascinated and thrilled by the fresh perspective these young people have – how they address problems and consider the social consequences. They don’t shy away from decisions but they’re much more concerned about the impact of those decisions on other people.”

Spain and Portugal: Sonia Pedreira, managing partner

“We started the programme in 2009 in the financial crisis when young people had very negative feelings about the banks … we decided to run the initiative to help attract the best young talent to companies, because the brightest students weren’t choosing to work in companies, preferring start-ups or other organisations – often they had a very distorted idea of corporate life.”


This article was paid for by Odgers Berndtson Sub-Saharan Africa. 

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