What makes a successful CEO?

To find out what characteristics contribute to a world-class CEO, GrowthBusiness visited the CEO Summit and posed the question to select members of the new CEO 100 Club.

Depending on the sector and stage of growth of a particular company, there are a number of factors which go together to create a good CEO.

From recruiting the right team, assembling investors and landing big contracts, CEOs are at the forefront of driving a business forward.

As part of Silicon Valley Comes to the UK 2013, a 18-strong judging panel including Sherry Coutu, Saul Klein, Hermann Hauser and Davor Hebel selected the CEOs of 100 companies which they think have the potential to reach £100 million in revenue within three to five years.

GrowthBusiness visited the coming together of the 100 business leaders at the CEO Summit, held at London’s City Hall, to question some in attendance about what they personally think makes a great CEO.

Debbie Wosskow, CEO and co-founder of Love Home Swap

Love Home Swap is a homeswapping exchange set up in 2009 driven by social media interactions. It is backed by MMC Ventures and recently launched its Swap Points scheme, which will see members pledge time in their property to a central bank. This then provides them with points which can be redeemed to stay in other members’ homes.

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‘I think that what makes a great CEO is passion. For me with my business, which is home exchange for holiday, the idea for the company was one I really personally care about. I love to travel, and have children, but couldn’t find anywhere to stay when I went away.

‘In all the toings and froings and dramas of building a business, I’m am lucky that I can always come back to a genuine passion for my products and the company I’m building.’

Ben Whitaker, CEO and co-founder of Masabi

Masabi, which is headquartered in London, has designed and built a transport mobile ticketing and agile fare collection product. Its JustRide system has been used in the US by Boston’s MBTA, where it signals the end of ticket lines, lost tickets and cash fares by allowing passengers to buy and display tickets on their mobile phones.

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‘In this space, you need someone who is more reassuring for the larger buyers and transit agencies who want to see, even in new innovation, a team who have the right engineering background. 

‘It doesn’t naturally lend itself to a dot.com style CEO who might be more about the social media aspects or brand new technology. We have a naturally very cynical attitude to any new technology until it has provided itself reliable enough to come into this space.

‘As a CEO you have to not to get distracted by great new opportunities till they get to mass market. We’ve got to make sure everything we do works on old fashioned technology.’

Brian Spector, CEO and co-founder of CertiVox 

CertiVox, which is headquartered in London and backed by Octopus Ventures, uses number-theoretic cryptography to produce a mixture of algorithms to enable a secure exchange of data.

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‘I think that different stages of a company’s lifecycle need a different type of CEO. So a different type of CEO for each stage but the same person. 

‘When you get to that mid-market stage where you are trying to go from $5 million to $500 million that is a different type of CEO to one starting out. Then when you get to $500 million plus it’s another type.

‘It’s not impossible for someone to have the skills to do all three of those roles but it almost requires some higher form of intelligence to allow you to shape shift into those different types of people.’

Sherry Coutu, CEO and founder of Interactive Investor and angel investor

Sherry Coutu is a former CEO and current angel investor who serves on the boards of companies, charities and universities. She specialises in consumer internet, information services and education.

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‘For me being a successful CEO is two things. It is having a vision, but more importantly it is building a team and being able to lead that team to executive. 

‘The UK is brilliant at ideas but we fall down at scaling them up. And scaling them up is translated into execution. You only get execution by being able to articulate to great teams what they need to do so they can do it better and faster than anyone else.’

Iain Baillie, co-CEO and co-founder of Asset Match

Asset Match’s electronic platform allows companies, existing shareholders and new investors to register online and then meet on a peer-to peer basis to trade with each other transparently and securely.

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‘A CEO is a role for someone with two personalities. You need to be passionate but able to analyse dispassionately. You need to be a control freak but able to delegate. You need to be a visionary looking at the big picture but with an accountant’s attention to detail.’

Brad Palmer, CEO and co-founder of Jostle

Based in Vancouver, Canada, Jostle has formed a new kind of cloud-based intranet to help organisations enable their employees and drive their culture.

‘I think you have got to be able to dance, able to jump from this activity to that activity keeping things in balance and keeping yourself forused each step of the way.

‘I also care a lot about team work, so much that that is why if founded my company. We help team work happen and allow culture to come alive in a company.’ 

Ben Wynn, CPO at Somo

Somo is a venture capital-backed mobile marketing company which has clients including Red Bull, Audi and Groupon.

Across its two London offices and San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Singapore bases, it has 125 staff.

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‘What has come out of today [CEO Summit] that is very important is having that vision – the ability to know your strengths and weaknesses and to surround yourself with a team and recruit the right people. It is all about recruitment as you grow and scale internationally.’

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.