I was a global CEO after graduating

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A recent graduate spent one month gaining experience as Adecco's global CEO

Most people would agree that experiencing what it’s like to be a global CEO before even starting a full-time job is an unconventional first step on the career ladder. I couldn’t have predicted what being a CEO is truly like until I worked with Alain [Dehaze, Adecco Group’s global CEO] for a month. This unique experience gave me an understanding of the complexity of international organisations, and insight into what is required – not just to make all the different parts of a global business work, but to thrive.

Throughout the month I was given the opportunity to learn from Alain, as well as meet and interact with a variety of senior business and political figures from across the world. What I learned has given me a different perspective on leadership, organisations, and the labour market.

Characteristics of an exceptional global CEO

One key quality that the leaders I met exhibited was curiosity. A great way I was able to learn lots and quickly was by throwing myself into challenging environments that put me out of my comfort zone. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as when I had to sit on a panel and discuss trends in the labour market with the prime minister of Luxembourg – in French!

Perseverance and resilience were essential too, especially with the intense travel schedule that comes with an already extremely challenging job. We travelled to 12 countries on four continents in just over a month, visiting a new country and local offices nearly every other day.

Unsurprisingly, with so much travel, each day was different so we were always having to adapt to new environments and new groups of people. A major part of our time was spent conducting international business reviews with senior management from the group in different countries and holding strategy meetings.

Leading and inspiring a global team

The Adecco Group has 33,000 full-time staff globally, and keeping everyone in such a large company motivated is a big and important task. I learnt that being true to yourself, and trusting your instinct works best as people can tell when you are being genuine and they respond to that. Being able to show confidence and strong leadership in any moment is also essential.

When it came to finding my confidence, Alain taught me how to structure my thoughts and to trust my gut feeling. If anything sounds too complicated or ‘feels off’ then it probably is so trust yourself and your experiences, he told me. The importance of reflection as a learning tool is something I will continue using throughout my career. At the end of every day we would have a debrief to reflect on that day’s activities, challenges and successes, to help keep us on top of what was going on and continue improving.

The changing face of work

The experience also opened my eyes to how fast the world of work is evolving. One of the big trends that consistently popped up was the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and what impact it will have on the workforce. Based on these and other conversations I had during my month as ‘CEO’, I don’t believe there will be a loss of jobs from the introduction of AI in the workforce but rather a change in the nature of jobs. Continuous upskilling and reskilling of employees will be really important in this environment.

The other major trend that became clear to me is the rise of the gig economy, and the challenges and opportunities this creates for employers and employees.

I never dreamt that I would experience what it’s like to run a Fortune Global 500 company so early in my career. But I can only recommend running similar ‘work experience’ programmes for other organisations: not just because of the opportunity you are offering jobseekers, but also because they might be able to offer a new and valuable perspective on your business.

Edmund Broadhead is a recent graduate from Homerton College, University of Cambridge

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