At Starbucks, I read this headline in the morning paper:
“CEO’s fast-food experience questioned”
Curious, I read on. The Toronto Star writer, Francine Kopun, was parroting a concern expressed by Michael Van Aelst, an analyst with TD Securities, upon the announcement of Marc Caira as the new CEO of Tim Hortons.
Concerned about Mr. Caira’s lack of direct experience in running a quick-service restaurant company, Mr. Van Aelst is cited as having asked: “Can you help us understand Marc’s direct experience in dealing with the North American quick-service restaurant industry?”
Is Mr. Caira not a good candidate, I wondered.
Marc Caira, the newly appointed President and CEO of Tim Hortons Inc., has proven he can perform in a business crisis of the worst kind.
In 2003, as the newly minted CEO of Parmalat Dairy & Bakery Canada, he increased the company’s profitability while the parent company – Italian food giant Parmalat Finanziaria – melted down under an accounting scandal that was compared with Enron…
Caira, 59, was most recently Global CEO of Nestlé Professional, a food supply company with 10,000 employees and operations in about 100 countries…
It seems that he is. Francine Kopun’s summary of Mr. Caira’s illustrious career and stellar resume shows why he is a good candidate for the job. It also helped me conclude that Mr. Van Aelst’s question was ill-founded and inane.
Tim Horton is facing increasing pressure from competitors, e.g., McDonald’s in Canada, and is struggling with its expansion into the US. It also needs to bring focus and discipline to building its brand and business in the Middle East if it is going to continue its recent successes in that region. These are exactly the type of issues that Mr. Caira has a proven track record in dealing with.
Instead of looking at Mr. Caira’s successes, Mr. Van Aelst is questioning Mr. Caira’s candidacy based on lack of direct industry experience. Does Tim Horton’s really need him to have managed a quick-service business or to have served doughnuts? I don’t believe that’s the experience they need.
This kind of thinking keeps good candidates—possibly the best ones—from getting the chance to be considered in industries where their skills and fresh approach could really make a difference. It is common in the specifications of recruitment ads:
“Must have 20 years experience in the motor vehicle industry”
“Must have 20 years experience in the financial services industry”
“Must have 20 years experience in B2B marketing”
Why do human resource professionals and recruiting professionals believe this direct industry experience to be so crucial?
Is it more important than, say, an executive’s proven success in discerning market opportunities and artfully conceiving and executing marketing strategies that have made a meaningful impact on her employers’ businesses across diverse industries?
Is it more important than, say, the knowledge these executives have gained from their experiences in working in diverse industries and its potential for igniting innovative solutions to the business challenges facing their potential new employer?
I don’t think so. Industry experience is important in some cases. But, in far more, the requirement for direct industry experience is more likely to keep the best people out. And that’s a shame. And that’s my point.