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Skills needed as you transition from managing one business to managing a group of businesses

The key to successfully transition from one leadership level to another rests on the ability of the transitioning executive to learn and integrate the leadership skills required in the new role.

When transitioning from a business manager role (e.g. Affiliate Country Manager, Business Unit Director etc.) to a group manager role (e.g. Regional Director, Business Division Director etc.), the executive transitions into heading up multiple businesses rather than merely one. As a result, attention should be on bringing out the best of each individual business and on determining the focus and resources to be allocated each business, considering the best overall use of the collective resources of the company.

This position is often what leaders find the least fun, since focus is on ensuring division-wide compliance and allocating limited corporate resources among competing businesses while balancing the egos of the business managers.

Transitioning into the group manager role will often include turning some businesses into cash cows and diverting resources to other businesses with star potential. Additionally, the group manager must be able to align the “small kingdoms” headed by the business managers, around an overall common vision, mission, set of values, and culture.

In our experience, three things characterize this career step:

1. At this stage, leadership becomes very HOLISTIC. Mastering the complexities of running multiple businesses resembles the challenges faced by a functional manager (e.g. Manager of the Sales Function) when he/she transitions into a business manager role (e.g. Affiliate Country Manager role) and suddenly needs to balance multifunctional platforms. However, here the level of complexity is further increased as this transitioning could also involve businesses in different industry segments, or businesses at different vertical levels in the industry value chain etc. Multidimensional thinking is required when integrating a broad portfolio of business needs into an overall plan and thus strategy-related work will take up much of the time available, and challenge individual business strategies.

2. A great deal of faith must be invested in the business managers for the respective businesses by the group manager, and the group manager must focus his/her full attention on LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT – developing his/her leaders, their competencies, capabilities, and their ability to deliver required revenue streams and profit contributions. This involves high-level coaching of business managers and occasional mentoring of talented functional managers. The truly successful group manager is second-to-none in identifying, attracting, assessing, developing, coaching, mentoring and retaining highly talented leaders who can bring their respective businesses to the next level.

3. The continuous EVALUATION OF THE PORTFOLIO OF BUSINESSES within the group, and their fit with the overall strategies, takes up significant focus of the group manager. Therefore, deconstructing, reconstructing and continuously fine-tuning the portfolio strategy is essential to being successful at this career level.

4. The group manager takes a key role in the DEVELOPMENT OF CORPORATE STRATEGIES (i.e. the vision, the mission and values) in close collaboration with the CEO/enterprise manager. Often, it is the corporate strategies that create the glue uniting these – sometimes remarkably different – businesses. If developed and implemented well, these corporate strategies can transcend geographical borders and cultural boundaries, and ensure that a sense of common purpose thrives in the organization. Thus, monitoring compliance with corporate strategies, policies and guidelines becomes a key task. In terms of business strategies, the group manager must also be able to prioritize a portfolio of strategies over individual strategies.

Skills and experience required to succeed at Group Manager level includes:

  • portfolio strategy,

  • sophisticated data and psychological analysis,

  • multiple-dimensional business management,

  • corporate strategic leadership,

  • corporate funding strategies and tools,

  • corporate strategy development, and

  • high-level talent management.

One can argue that the group manager becomes the playing coach of a team of individualists, excellent in their own way, and the key challenge is thus to make the team play effectively together (i.e. set a team of business managers that can lead their own local team and at the same time assume a loyal and contributing role/position towards the group).

Therefore, the group manager must be capable of building his/her personal credibility across a multi-dimensional context of sometimes opposing agendas.

The best learning ground for a group manager to expand his/her perspective and gain experience on this type of management is by leading a variety of businesses, and in different business manager roles, before entering the group manager position. Experience from working with different operating models, including structures, systems, processes, and capabilities – and in a broad variety of roles across functions and hierarchy – will empower the group manager to better challenge the business managers and ask informed questions that can cut to the core of a business issue. In our experience, having a mentor from early on in this process, following the leader through several of his/her career steps and supporting the transition into the new role/level, is highly valuable.


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