Hiring is just the start of getting the best
She goes on: “The arrogant CEO won’t hire me because he doesn’t want to change. A lot of people get to the CEO’s position and then say, ‘I’m done’.
“They think they don’t need development any more, which I think is amazing. The people who hire me are new CEOs for the first time who are under pressure, who have an awareness around their limitations.
“They are quite scared. Fear might drive them to hire me. Unlocking their self-awareness depends , but they are willing receptors. There’s only two things that matter – the quality of the advice given, and the quality of the person taking it,” she declares.
“I try to get them to take bigger risks and make more of an impact, rather than play it safe. Essentially, it is about empowering them to take charge. It is about their vision. The word might be over-used, but often people don’t have a vision.”
The attrition figures for newly-hired executives indicate beyond doubt that a problem exists, she argues, but no one is doing anything about it.
“I’ll tell you why. No one is responsible for retention in the company. No one manages that, so therefore nobody does anything about it. So when things go wrong people like to say that it was a chemistry issue – ‘He didn’t understand our culture’, or ‘This is a tough culture’. It becomes all macho-speak,” she says.
Executives in some companies have easier lives. “Certain industries will always lose money, like airlines, and others will always make money, like banks, until something happens.”
“It doesn’t matter who is sitting at the top,” she continues. “Certain businesses are cash machines. The leaders think they are amazing, but it doesn’t matter who is leading because they are a cash machine. They can’t take any credit for the fact that they are making money.
“Sometimes those organisations implode like Lehmans, but they think they were successful. They weren’t, it was just the dynamics of that business that it was going to make money.”
Of people such as Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group which owns British Airways, she says: “That is practically an impossible industry. A guy like him just enjoys it and goes for it.”
Seeking to expand her company, O’Keeffe is now enjoying life as an author. “The books are making a difference. In the end it is all about brand and credibility,” she says.
“Before and after you are the same person, but now you are an author. It has meaning for a lot of people, so the tide is turning, it’s interesting.”