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Interview with Christopher Witt

Chris, you are taking this really important step and setting up a CEO School. First of all, what is that exactly?

The CEO School is a unique project. I really think this is going to revolutionise the way we train our top executives and how we run business.

As a pilot trains heavily in a simulated environment, so might we train entrepreneurs through experiential learning and deep interaction with serial entrepreneurs. That’s what the CEO School is all about.

Sometimes, in fact, almost all the time, leaders need to stop, take a breath, and focus on re-learning how to lead.


What are some of the topics you will cover at CEO School?

The basic concept is to meld together some really fascinating key points, based on real-life CEO situations, such as: Your first 90 days as CEO; Priorities for the start-up CEO; Handling time & pressure; and what I call Black swan events – managing in a crisis.


You’ve also spoken about the importance to a CEO of networks.

Absolutely. This is often overlooked, but the biggest single determinate of how effectively a promising business grows is the strength of the networks connected to the management, the board and the investors. It comes down to how well you are able to marshal those resources and punch above your weight.


So having a vision and passion may not be enough for success?

Passion is fantastic. We all need it. But you need skills and a background network to help you implement the vision. Passion often drives opportunity seeking, yet skills form a foundation to maintain operational integrity and minimise risk. Or, if you will, passion leads to decisive strategic action, while skills can keep the train on the rails.

I’d say almost 95% of innovation comes in the implementation; in the team’s ability to knock down barriers to acceptance in the marketplace. If you look at the pantheon of innovation, it’s overwhelmingly not about the best ideas but the best ones that got out and survived.


Chris, people thinking of enrolling in the CEO School would like to know a little about yourself and what your experience is.

It’s not my style to blow my own trumpet, I think I’ve got a pretty unique skill set. For nearly 30 years now I have held senior positions at AT&T in the USA, Telstra, Motorola (Asia), and numerous CEO roles in both startups and more established companies.

In the 13 years since I co-founded The Kalori Group, we have assisted many companies through direct investment, board directorships, and capital raising or managing company sale situations.

I’m also the founding Director of the Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the University of New South Wales and have done extensive teaching through the Australian Institute of Company Directors.


Every business has different needs and wants – how does the CEO School cater to a company’s special needs?

CEOs can generate quality insights and problem solving skills through forming a peer group of other CEOs. Access to other intelligent people – in trusted, confidential and conversational situations – can provide quality input and the means of breaking our own mental log jams that form from time to time.

One-on-one coaching with experienced team members from the CEO School can open up new avenues for framing issues, and provide objective feedback.

Lastly, CEO School will provide you with tried and tested frameworks for common situations faced by many CEOs.


Is the School about practical measures that a CEO can implement or is it theory-based?

CEO School begins with a personal diagnostic process, followed by goal setting for the 6-week session of the School. The focus will rely heavily on case studies, and personal visits from CEOs who will recount their personal journey and key lessons along the way. The School will also foster peer group review, and have one-on-one coaching sessions to review and support your personal goals.


In your view, what does it really mean to be an “entrepreneur” in 2011?

Entrepreneurs are, by definition, curious and unsatisfied people. They reserve the right to criticise poor decisions. In this dissatisfied state, they generate solutions, new ways to solve those identified issues. Sometimes these are leaps of progress. Other times these are small steps of sequential progress. In all cases, they involve meaningful steps that people will pay for – that is, they will deliver true value that can be quantified and is happily paid for.


What are the three big concrete things that a CEO will be able to take away from the CEO School?

First, a real clarity of your personal CEO priorities that reflect your strengths. Second, and again, I can’t stress how important this really is, new personal networks and a peer group to assist you. And finally, you get really valuable one-on-one coaching from me, an experienced CEO to drill down to the details with you.


Finally, any advice to CEOs out there?

Sometimes it’s vitally important to work on the business, rather than in it. That’s what CEO School is all about.

So, if you’re ready to lead, I’m ready at the CEO School to help you succeed.