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Change of the industry in a c-level role: smooth process or a challenge

Change of the industry in a c-level role: smooth process or a challenge

Spending years in one single industry sometimes may affect a bit spiritless feeling, lack of enthusiasm or passion. Promotions that led to a senior role and brought excitement already happened, long journey is ahead and the need for a new challenge becomes obvious. Some managers see the challenge as a similar job within related or even completely different industry. They are really open for that kind of a change and willing to invest their time and energy in something new. But is it common in our market; are companies open for managers from other industries?  Well, depending on the role and industry itself, as well as on company culture.

Generally speaking, lower positions imply higher flexibility. Flexible requests for senior managers, in terms of candidate background, are not very often. Starting point indicates that the change of an important senior, or initial hire in a start-up/investment, is already a big deal so some common ground is necessary, like specific market knowledge, current and future trends, certain production processes, etc. Yes, culture fit appears to be not of less importance, but currently not speaking about that. Some companies simply don’t have enough time to adapt to a new industry environment, due to planned internal or external projects, needed to be led by the senior. Also, concerns about internal positioning of a manager who is not the industry expert, might discourage companies from considering this option. Finally, in some cases companies just want someone who is successful and reputable within certain area. The fact is that most of companies in our market are not really open for managers outside of the industry. Some of them are even so determined in this, that they rather choose hiring an expat from the industry than changing desired profile, if availability of those profiles is relative at a local market.

On the other side, there are companies that typically require candidates with different industry background for their senior roles. There are also companies that are open to consider profiles from different industries if a strong reference exists. Requesting different industry background from the very beginning of a search process is usual for some industry leading companies where the industry is quite narrow in local market or globally. Since they operate (in local market) for years and have clear understanding of the industry and competition, they choose alternative target. This does not mean that they don’t want to consider a manager from their industry, this means that their focus is keenly on another specific industry as this is their hiring strategy. This might be seen in some large global production companies with B2B sales model that are focused on FMCG senior sales professionals from multinational surroundings, rather than on candidates with B2B background from small or mid business. One more example, although not directly industry related – senior roles in direct selling usually require an FMCG senior professional. This type of strategy often brings one typical characteristic: a specific personal profile of the candidate is so important that it usually represents a deal breaker when it comes to decision. Apart from this model and described hiring strategies, there are occasional requests from companies to get a candidate outside of the industry for some specific roles. For example, decision of a production company to hire a person from a bank on their Finance Manager vacancy. Clearly, this is based on specific circumstances and needs, and not related to previously mentioned processes.

As already stated above, some companies are quite open to consider a candidate from another industry when they have a strong reference. A reference typically implies close connection with some specific potential candidate and based on that, kind of a guarantee that this person will be an excellent choice, primarily based on personal profile and culture fit. The reference usually comes from an Executive Search Consultant, but also might come from a trusted employee of the company.

To summarize – if you are a senior executive whose career is related to one specific market segment, an industry switch might not be as easy as wanted and/or expected. Depending on the diversity of the industries, it might be easier or harder. Also, potential match of your personal profile with desired one, might facilitate the process. Of course, being close to Executive Search Consultant is always a good idea, as they can provide the necessary reference and open a door.


Ana Santovac, Partner
Dr. Heimeier Executive Search doo
Ziegel House, Nebojšina 36, Belgrade, Serbia
Mob.: +381 63 24 66 50

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