Are leaders portable?Harv Bus Rev. 2006 May; 84(5):92-100, 157.HB
Does management talent transfer from one company to another? The market certainly seems to think so. Stock prices spike when companies announce new CEOs from a talent generator like General Electric. But how do these executives perform over the long term? The authors studied the careers of 20 former GE executives who went on to lead other major organizations, with strikingly uneven results. Even the best management talent, the authors found, is transferable only if it maps to the challenges of the new environment. More specifically, the authors identified five types of skills that may or may not transfer to a new job: general management human capital, or the skills to gather, cultivate, and deploy financial, technical, and human resources; strategic human capital, or individuals' expertise in cost cutting, growth, or cyclical markets; industry human capital, meaning the technical and regulatory knowledge unique to an industry; relationship human capital, or the extent to which a manager's effectiveness can be attributed to his or her experience working with colleagues or as part of a team; and company-specific human capital, or the knowledge about routines and procedures, corporate culture and informal structures, and systems and processes that are unique to a company. The GE executives' performance as CEOs depended on whether their new organizations were able to leverage each type of skill. The authors'findings challenge the conventional wisdom on human capital, which holds that there are two types of skill: general management, which is readily transferable, and company specific, which is not. In fact, they argue, other types of management capabilities can make a significant contribution to performance, and company-specific skills can be an asset in a new job.