Colby Howard

Published on October 3, 2023

Featured Article

Unlocking CEO Performance: A Guide on Evaluating Public Company CEOs through Conversations with Former Colleagues

As an investor, it’s crucial to understand the driving force behind a company, and that often means evaluating its CEO. One often overlooked method for doing this is by talking to former colleagues. This blog will provide insight into the value of having conversations with former associates when evaluating public company CEOs.

1. The Role of a CEO in a Public Company

In any organization, the CEO plays a pivotal role. But in a public company, the stakes are even higher. Public scrutiny, shareholder demands, and market volatility all add layers of complexity to the role.

What does a CEO do, exactly?

A CEO is responsible for making major corporate decisions, managing the resources of a company, acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and the corporate operations, and being the public face of the company. They set the strategic direction and ensure the organization meets its goals.

But the job isn’t just about strategy and operations. It’s about leadership. A great CEO inspires employees, fosters a positive culture, and builds strong relationships with investors and stakeholders.

Why does this matter?

The CEO’s performance can significantly impact a company’s success or failure. If you’re an investor, you need to evaluate not just the company, but its leadership. This is where understanding the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs comes in.

Former colleagues can provide insights into a CEO’s leadership style, strengths, weaknesses, and overall performance—information that can be invaluable when deciding where to invest. What would a former colleague say about the CEO’s decision-making process? Their ability to inspire and lead? Their business acumen?

By including former colleagues in your evaluation process, you can gain a more comprehensive picture of a CEO’s performance. And with a more informed view, you can make investment decisions with greater confidence.

2. Identify Former Colleagues for CEO Evaluation

In order to unlock the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs, the first step is identifying the right people to talk to. This may seem daunting, but by focusing on a few key areas, you can effectively identify individuals who could provide critical insights on the CEO’s performance.

Start with the inner circle

Look towards the individuals who had frequent interactions with the CEO. These may include former members of the executive team, direct reports, or even personal assistants. They can provide insights into the CEO’s daily habits, decision-making process, and management style.

Consider the outer circle

Former colleagues from outside the executive team can also provide valuable insights. These individuals might include employees who worked on projects directly under the CEO or even business partners who interacted with them on a regular basis.

Don’t overlook long-term relationships

Long-term colleagues can provide a unique perspective on the CEO’s growth and evolution as a leader. They might be able to shed light on how the CEO responded to past challenges or how they’ve grown and evolved over time.

By casting a wide net, you can gather a diverse range of perspectives about the CEO’s performance. While these conversations might not provide a definitive answer, they can certainly provide valuable pieces to the puzzle in evaluating a CEO’s effectiveness. Remember, the goal here is to gain a holistic understanding of the CEO’s performance. This broader perspective can often be the key to unlocking the true value of talking to former colleagues when evaluating public company CEOs.

3. Prepare for the Conversation: What to Ask

Armed with your list of potential interviewees, the next step is to prepare your line of questioning. Remember, your aim is to tease out the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs. The questions you ask should provide insights into the CEO’s leadership style, decision-making process, and overall effectiveness. Here are a few areas to focus on:

Leadership Style

Ask questions that can help elucidate the CEO’s leadership style. You might ask, “How would you describe the CEO’s leadership style?” or “Can you share a situation where the CEO’s leadership had a significant impact?”

Decision-Making Process

Understanding how a CEO makes decisions can reveal a lot about their effectiveness. Questions such as, “Can you recall a difficult decision the CEO had to make?” or “What are some examples of the CEO’s strategic decisions?” can provide valuable insights.

Management and Communication

The CEO’s management and communication skills are integral to their performance. Try asking, “How did the CEO communicate with the team?” or “What was the CEO’s approach to conflict resolution?”

Crisis Management

The way a CEO handles crises can be telling of their ability to lead. Asking, “Can you share an instance where the CEO successfully navigated a crisis?” can help gauge their crisis management skills.

Vision and Strategy

The CEO’s vision and strategy for the company are crucial. You may ask, “What was the CEO’s vision for the company?” or “Can you describe the strategic planning process under the CEO’s leadership?”

By asking the right questions, you are one step closer to fully harnessing the value of talking to former colleagues in the process of evaluating public company CEOs.

4. Analyze the Conversation: What to Look For

Once the conversation with the former colleagues is complete, it’s time to dissect the information gathered. The responses to your questions offer a wealth of data, and the task lies in identifying essential points that can enhance your understanding of the CEO’s capabilities. Remember, the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs lies not just in the questions asked, but in the analysis of the responses received.


Look for consistency in the responses from different colleagues. If there’s a common thread in their descriptions of the CEO’s leadership style or crisis management skills, then you likely have an accurate picture of the CEO’s performance.

Depth of Insight

Pay attention to the depth of the responses. Detailed answers often indicate the respondent’s close observation of the CEO and can provide more nuanced insights into their leadership and decision-making.

Contrasting Views

Don’t shy away from contrasting views. If one colleague praises the CEO’s communication skills and another disagrees, explore these contradictions. They could reveal situational strengths or weaknesses not evident from a single viewpoint.

Anecdotal Evidence

Anecdotal evidence can be powerful. Specific instances mentioned by the colleagues can shed light on how the CEO operates under different circumstances and how they react to challenges.

Emotional Tone

Lastly, consider the emotional tone of the responses. Do the colleagues speak about the CEO with respect and admiration, or is there a hint of resentment? These subtle cues can offer an additional layer of understanding.

When properly analyzed, the information gleaned from these conversations can significantly enhance your evaluation of public company CEOs, thereby underlining the value of talking to former colleagues.

5. Evaluate CEO Performance: Key Indicators

With the rich insights from your conversations with former colleagues, it’s time to evaluate the CEO’s performance using key indicators. This is where the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs truly shines, as it adds depth to your understanding of these crucial metrics.

Financial Performance

The primary measure of a CEO’s effectiveness lies in the company’s financial performance. Consider metrics such as revenue growth, profit margins, return on investment, and shareholder returns.

Strategic Vision

A CEO’s strategic vision drives the company’s direction. From your conversations, you should have gleaned insights into their ability to set realistic, ambitious goals and create strategies to achieve them.

Leadership Style

The leadership style of a CEO plays a critical role in a company’s culture and success. Look for indicators of transformational leadership, which inspires employees to exceed their own individual performance goals for the good of the company.

Decision-Making Ability

A CEO’s decision-making ability can be revealed through the stories shared by former colleagues. Analyze these instances to understand how the CEO navigates difficult situations and makes critical business decisions.

Stakeholder Relations

Assess the CEO’s ability to manage relationships with various stakeholders, from employees and shareholders to customers and the general public. Strong stakeholder relations often indicate a CEO’s aptitude for communication and negotiation.

By integrating the insights from your conversations with these key performance indicators, you can create a more comprehensive and nuanced evaluation of a public company CEO. The value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs extends far beyond mere fact-finding—it provides a deeper, more holistic view of the CEO’s performance.

6. Case Studies: CEO Evaluations in Action

Let’s bring this concept to life with some real-world examples. These case studies demonstrate how talking to former colleagues can enrich the process of evaluating public company CEOs.

Case Study 1: Tech Giant Turnaround

Consider the case of a technology giant experiencing a slowdown in growth. The board wanted to evaluate the CEO’s performance, and they reached out to his former colleagues. Through these conversations, they discovered that while the CEO had a strong strategic vision, he was falling short in stakeholder relations, particularly with disgruntled employees. This feedback led the board to implement a leadership coaching program for the CEO, which ultimately helped improve the company’s growth trajectory.

Case Study 2: Retailer Revival

Next, let’s look at a struggling retail chain. The board was considering a change in leadership and sought feedback from the CEO’s former colleagues. This feedback revealed that the CEO’s decision-making abilities were exceptional in times of crisis, a trait that was not obvious from financial metrics alone. Encouraged by these insights, the board decided to support the CEO through the turbulent period. The result? A remarkable turnaround for the retailer.

Case Study 3: Healthcare Innovator

Lastly, consider a healthcare start-up transitioning to a public company. The investors wanted to evaluate the CEO’s performance to ensure he was the right fit for this new phase. Conversations with former colleagues revealed the CEO’s transformative leadership style and his knack for fostering a culture of innovation—qualities that financial metrics could not quantify. This reassured the investors, and under the CEO’s leadership, the start-up successfully transitioned into a thriving public company.

These case studies underscore how powerful conversations with former colleagues can be in evaluating public company CEOs. It’s not just about the numbers—it’s also about capturing the nuances of leadership that can make or break a company’s success.

7. Pitfalls to Avoid in CEO Evaluations

Navigating the choppy waters of CEO evaluation can be rife with potential missteps. Avoid these common pitfalls to ensure a comprehensive, unbiased assessment.

Over-reliance on Quantitative Metrics

While financial performance and other quantitative metrics are crucial, they don’t tell the whole story. Remember that these figures are often the result of collective efforts, not just the CEO’s work. Relying solely on these can lead to an incomplete picture of the CEO’s performance.

Ignoring Soft Skills

Leadership, communication, and decision-making abilities are just as important as hard skills. Ignoring these during the evaluation could result in overlooking a CEO’s unique strengths or weaknesses. Always ensure you’re assessing the full range of skills, and remember the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs.

Bias and Preconceptions

Entering the evaluation process with preconceived opinions can skew results. Keep an open mind, focusing on the facts and feedback you gather.

Overlooking External Factors

Sometimes, a dip in company performance can be attributed to external market forces rather than the CEO’s abilities. Ensure you separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to assessing performance.

Failing to Establish Clear Evaluation Criteria

Without a clear set of evaluation criteria, your assessment might come across as arbitrary. Define what success looks like for your company, and measure the CEO’s performance against these specific benchmarks.

Avoiding these pitfalls will help to ensure that your CEO evaluation is both fair and informative. It will also underline the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs, adding depth and perspective to the process.

8. The Impact of CEO Performance on Company Success

A company’s trajectory is significantly influenced by its helmsman – the CEO. The person at the helm can steer the company towards growth and prosperity or, conversely, lead it into troubled waters.

Visionary Leadership

A visionary CEO can chart a strategic course that propels the company into new markets or innovative product lines. Their foresight can make the difference between stagnation and growth, demonstrating the direct link between CEO performance and company success.

Stakeholder Relations

The CEO’s ability to build productive relationships with investors, employees, and customers can enhance the company’s reputation and foster trust. This relational capital can be a competitive advantage, underscoring the value of CEO performance.

Operational Efficiency

An effective CEO can drive operational efficiency, resulting in better utilization of resources, cost savings, and ultimately, improved profitability. This clearly illustrates the measurable impact a CEO can have on a company’s bottom line.

Culture and Employee Engagement

The CEO sets the tone for the company culture. A leader who fosters a positive, inclusive culture can boost employee engagement and productivity, directly impacting company success.

Risk Management

In an era of constant change and uncertainty, the CEO’s ability to navigate risks can determine the company’s resilience and adaptability. This is where the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs can be particularly insightful; they can provide first-hand accounts of the CEO’s risk management prowess.

In essence, the CEO’s performance has far-reaching implications for the company’s success. Therefore, a thorough evaluation of the CEO’s capabilities is a critical component in the strategic decision-making process for shareholders and board members.

9. Next Steps: Using Your CEO Evaluation

Having meticulously gathered and analyzed insights from former colleagues to evaluate a public company CEO’s performance, the next step is to put this valuable information to practical use. Here’s how.

Informed Voting

Shareholders can use the evaluation results to make informed decisions during annual general meetings or special meetings where CEO performance is a point of discussion. The evaluation can provide critical insights into whether the CEO’s leadership style aligns with the company’s strategic direction and values.

Board Decisions

For board members, the evaluation findings can guide discussions around CEO compensation, contract renewals, or even succession planning. This underscores the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs as part of a comprehensive due diligence process.

Investment Choices

Investors can use the CEO evaluation as part of their research process to make more informed investment decisions. It can provide insights into the company’s future trajectory and potential, which are crucial elements for investment decisions.


The evaluation can also serve as a benchmark for comparing and contrasting potential CEO candidates during the recruitment process. This can help to ensure that the chosen candidate has the necessary skills and leadership style to drive the company towards its strategic goals.

In conclusion, a thorough CEO evaluation, informed by conversations with former colleagues, is a powerful tool that can inform a range of strategic decisions, thereby contributing to the overall success of the company.

10. Conclusion: The Power of Informed CEO Evaluations

To wrap up, the process of assessing public company CEOs is no small feat. It involves a multifaceted approach, extending beyond financial metrics or industry reputations. One key element that often goes unnoticed is the value of talking to former colleagues in evaluating public company CEOs. These conversations offer an unfiltered perspective into the CEO’s leadership style, decision-making process, and their ability to navigate the unique challenges of running a public company.

By integrating these insights into a comprehensive CEO evaluation, stakeholders can make more informed decisions. Whether it’s deciding on CEO compensation as a board member, choosing where to place an investment, or casting a vote at an annual general meeting, these evaluations provide crucial information.

Moreover, these evaluations set a high standard for future CEO recruitment, ensuring only capable and fitting leaders guide the company toward its strategic goals. Thus, the power of informed CEO evaluations, underpinned by insights from former colleagues, is the key to unlocking sustainable company performance and value creation.

© 2023 Paragon Intel