View From The Helicopter: Secrets Of Winning Companies

by Sohini Bagchi    Feb 13, 2017


From leading a nuclear power station to running a multi-billion dollar company, Roger Harrop has worn many different hats. But the part he loves playing the most - and continues to do with élan - is passing on his knowledge of business to his clients. Based in Oxford in the UK, Harrop, an international speaker, an author and business growth advisor, also offers master classes to CXOs. In a recent interaction with CXOtoday, Roger Harrop - The CEO Expert, discusses the present-day business challenges, how CEOs can succeed in this digital era and his helicopter programs that provides a greater insight to business leaders.

CXOToday: You’ve had a very interesting career graph, what has inspired you to take up the job of a ‘motivator’ to the CEOs?

Well, in some ways I got lucky and may be thank my enthusiasm [laughs…]. Actually, let me explain, I had a fairly successful career like many others. I have extensive experience across a broad spectrum of businesses - from small start-ups to large multinational corporations. I also took up the job of a project manager and led a team to build a power station in Kenya. I spent seven years as Group CEO of a FTSE quoted, high tech industrial instrumentation group with 12 operations over four continents. So things were going fine and I kept learning a lot, but life in business also has its knocks.

I realized this when we were made to help structure our business for new owners after a take-over – and this came as a shock. It was then that I realized how limited the CEO’s power really is. When a merger was on the cards, I found that my entire time was spent in trying to sell the company to the highest bidder rather than running the company. Suddenly things were out of my control… it was rather difficult.

A few years after the takeover, I made a decision. I got enough of experiences from the corporate world. So I discussed with my wife Christine and decided that it’s time I need to give back some of the lessons I learnt. I need to have ‘fun’ in what I do - an essential component in the corporate world many fail to understand. So, I started as a small business advisor to share my business knowledge to clients, I begun to speak at public conferences and gave daylong master classes. The idea therefore to motivate CEOs, to help them grow their business also helps me have fun in my work.

CXOToday: What are the key takeaways from your keynote presentations at CEO events?

The world of business has changed like never before. The playing field has been leveled as every company, of every size and in every part of the world now has the same amazing opportunities to thrive. In this scenario, the role of business leaders have also changed - with a need to spend time in the helicopter while keeping it simple - at the core. I’d like to think that I’ve just helped people be more successful in their business in some way or the other.  And if I’ve managed to do that then I’m a happy man.” 

CXOToday: What is the significance of the helicopter in all your speech?

Business leaders need to get in the helicopter and look over the horizon to see the bigger picture that begins with where they are going. The biggest challenge of CEOs is that only few are aware of where they are heading.

The fundamental idea is that if you take the view from above…the helicopter view, you can take a complete overview of your business - and handle the detail based on this view. I believe, growing your business is not difficult if you “Get in the Helicopter.”

CXOToday: What according to you are the key challenges businesses are facing today?

One of the biggest gaps in business is the lack of communication. This is quite unfortunate in the digital era because there’s information all over. All we need to do is pick up the right medium and start talking about our problems. Look at Periscope, this amazing free app that lets me plan my regular CEOscopes - sharing business growth tips - broadcast live and fully interactive – there are so many out there. We just need to identify and apply to the context.

The second challenge is, not being able to turn challenges into opportunity. Whilst Brexit might force a lot of CEOs to challenge their norms, businesses who can find the right opportunities from it will thrive. In fact, the positive part is that so many businesses have ‘woken up’ as a result of the Brexit vote and are re-examining their businesses and their strategy for the future - which can only be healthy.

Finally, organizations can’t change if leaders do not change with them. Most leaders fail to adapt, and those who do, want transformation to happen at unrealistic speeds, with minimal effort, and everywhere but within themselves. As leaders we need to be truly adaptive – constantly anticipating change and disruption and therefore we must spend more time in the helicopter looking over the horizon to do that

CXOToday: What do you tell CEOs on overcoming failure?

A core competence of any winning business has to be the ability to assimilate, adapt and adopt new technologies incredibly quickly. And it’s not just technology, there are disruptive innovations and disruptive new approaches to markets appearing just as fast.

As leaders we need to be truly adaptive – constantly anticipating change and disruption and therefore we must spend more time in the helicopter looking over the horizon to do that. We should seek to be disrupters ourselves and that means the business needs to develop a culture of a toleration of failure – because not the plans or initiatives we thought of may work in our favor.

CXOToday: In your opinion, is leadership an innate skill, or something that can be learnt? Are some people simply natural born leaders?

While it is true that leaders possess a special set of qualities which are intrinsically part of their personality, such as vision, dynamism, courage etc, and these traits do capture something about leadership, but they don’t get to the heart of it. The genesis of leadership is one’s commitment to a possibility yet to be realized. It is often triggered by someone who looks out into their organization and thinks out of the box, is never satisfied and continually strive to take their business to the next level - so he or she take on a big commitment.

 CXOToday: How do you think leadership and management will change moving forward?

We have opportunities for our business like never before. We all need to act like entrepreneurs and stop looking to the past. We need to challenge everything in our business, encourage our people to think the unthinkable, get millennials on the top table and listen to them, look to sell to people who have money to spend, set higher standards than ever - be exceptional in absolutely everything we do and focus on the really important things for our future success.

We know that running business is about taking risks, and hence we need to take more and different risks than in the past. I believe these are the most exciting times for business and as Business Leaders we need to grab them with two hands. Finally we must constantly assimilate, adapt and adopt new technology that is arriving at eye watering speeds. 

A final word to your readers…

Well this may sound like a joke, but I’m serious. The best way tomorrow’s leaders can attain success is by being self-deprecating and making people smile – and tell them to just relax. 

[Roger Harrop - The CEO expert will be in Mumbai to offer his Master Classes to the C-level executives on March 3, 2017. The highly interactive event can be the catalyst for the transformation of your thinking as a Business Leader and help you take your business to a new level of success. To meet the expert and to register for the event, you can click here.]