CEO for a day: Job shadowing in the spotlight

What happened when university students spent a day with top executives from seven global organisations.

Imagine having one of your student interns shadow your every move for an entire day.

That’s exactly what seven business heads and CEOs did in March this year, as part of executive search firm Odgers Berndtson Asia’s “CEO X 1 Day” initiative.

The programme, which started in Spain in 2010, gives third year undergraduates from three Singapore universities, the opportunity to live in the shoes of a business leader for a day.

Partnering up with global firms, this year’s programme saw the participation of Johnson & Johnson, Saxo Group, Lloyd’s Asia, HP Inc., PropertyGuru Group, Siemens Healthineers, and Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

The programme provided both company leaders and students the opportunity to learn from one another, said Andie Rees, Managing Partner, Southeast Asia, Odgers Berndtson.

“The students learn about the challenges CEOs face and what it takes to be a leader in today’s world. From the CEO’s perspective, they get a real insight into what these young, talented millennials are looking for in their future career, and can perhaps help to bridge that gap,” said Rees.

Lloyd’s Asia Singapore CEO Angela Kelly says she decided to participate because she wanted to provide some much-needed guidance to the next generation of leaders.

“I felt that I needed to give back the support people gave to me earlier in my career. People also need to understand that there are interesting careers in insurance these days,” said Kelly. 

Her mentee, Aven Tong Yu Jue, an Economics major from the National University of Singapore, shared that he got to see first-hand the amount of multi-tasking that goes on in the life of a CEO, as well as learn the ins and outs of the insurance industry.

“For people on the street, they typically know what general insurance is. But Lloyd’s is also a marketplace. It’s been a great place to learn more about the insurance industry as a whole,” said Tong.

Saxo Group Asia-Pacific CEO Adam Reynolds, who was trailed by Laotian student Vipara Rasphone, also approached his role in the programme from the perspective of a mentor.

“Training is done poorly in this industry, and this programme allows me to impart what I know directly to the trainee. We talked about his career, the industry in general, and what investment banking is all about,” said Reynolds.

Job shadowing on the rise?

Although Odgers Berndtson has been running CEO X 1 Day in Europe and North America for several years, this is the first time that the programme has taken place in Asia.

Job shadowing of senior executives is still a relatively new concept in this region, though this form of training has long been employed by other industries like healthcare.

In the healthcare sector, for example, medical students have to learn from more experienced practitioners as part of their on-the-job training before they can become doctors or nurses themselves.

In the corporate world, organisations like Procter and Gamble (P&G) have also launched their own versions of this leadership development approach.

In 2015, P&G introduced the CEO Challenge across Asia, inviting tertiary students from across the region to come up with innovative solutions for existing business problems.

Leadership development is a key business strategy for a company with as many employees as P&G, said Vinitaa Jayson, Vice President, HR, P&G Asia, adding that the company believes “there’s no substitute for hands-on experience when it comes to leadership development”.

“That’s why we create early, meaningful responsibilities for every employee, by matching business needs with personal strengths and interests,” she said.

Rees believes that programmes like CEO X 1 Day are a great way to show business leaders the depth of talent in the region.

“We’ve certainly seen a change in the dynamics and the mix of leaders. If I think back twenty years ago, there were many expatriate directors and managers coming into the region to run the businesses.

“Running this initiative here in Singapore will show specifically to the leaders of multinational corporations exactly the quality of talent that are coming through these local institutions,” said Rees.

As Wouter van Wersch, CEO of GE (formerly General Electric) Southeast Asia, said at Odgers Berndtson’s launch event of CEO X 1 Day last month: “This is such a good idea. I might just steal it myself.”

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