An executive career step too far, a high price paid

Friday, June 21st, 2013 - Executive career positioning

Executive Career Positioning

I have always said that Executive Recruitment is not a lot different in process than any other form of recruitment, except in the execution of the strategy and some key/additional tactics.

Hence, Executive Career Management is much the same: similar but slightly different to normal career management.

One of the key issues for me is Career Positioning, where in blue, white and most professional markets the answer is:

X in a Y market

Where as in the executive market it’s slightly different in that it’s:

X in a Y market, in Z business situation

Executive career positioning

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will know that:

  • X is Profession, ie: Accountant, Engineer, Chief Executive, etc
  • Y is market, ie: FMCG, retail, banking, etc

Whilst Z is business situation, where there are five nominal business situations:

  1. Start-Up
  2. Growth
  3. Profit Improvement
  4. Company recovery from disaster, known as Save the Titanic
  5. Change Management (where most executive opportunities exist)

I have used the model a couple of times to show career searching executives why a particular move may not suit them. I don’t expose real clients to full disclosure on the blog just to create a case study, as part of the given basis personally in being a professional recruiter is absolute confidentiality. That truth is even more so in the CV Writing market, where often some key personal issues will be revealed during the delivery of an Executive CV or coaching towards a new executive position.

So it some what “delighted” me professionally when I reviewed the career of Jill Finney, ex-Deputy CEO of the Care Quality Commission, and her later sacking from Nominet.

Career background

In 2007, the UK Government set-up the Care Quality Commission, a quango to act as the regulator across all forms of health service in England, including hospitals, GP’s practises, mental health establishments and care homes for both the elderly and infirm. In April 2012 the founding CEO Cynthia Bower was forced out after:

  1. The report into Winterbourne View care home abuse scandal, in which the BBC’s Panorama programme showed the systematic abuse of various residents. The CQC had had consistent reports of problems at the care home from staff, but had not taken any of them up for investigation
  2. A subsequent Department of Health investigation by Una O’Brien, which found the CQC inadequate for purpose

Both Bower and Finney left CQC shortly afterwards. In February 2013, Finney was appointed Chief Commercial Officer of the UK’s url registry Nominet. She was subsequently sacked from this position in June 2013 in light of the CQC admitting that senior staff including Finney had covered up an internal CQC report into the Cumbria hospital deaths scandal. Both Bower and Finney have since denied being involved in the cover-up.

Executive career history

 Finney is a career-long PR and Communications specialist. According to her archived CQC biography, her career path was as follows:

  • Initial: PR & Comms, food manufacturing and distribution industry
  • UK Marketing Director, Ernst & Young (professions/financial services)
  • Strategic Marketing and Communications Director, British Library (launched the award-winning Business and Intellectual Property Centre, moving BL into new markets)
  • Deputy CEO, CQC (leads Strategic Marketing and Communications directorate, covering: marketing, communications (internal and external), press, public affairs, stakeholder relations and digital communications)
  • Chief Commercial Officer, Nominet (manage Nominet’s existing route-to-market, including relationships with channel partners. Lead Nominet’s marketing and communications)

Executive career analysis

Let us look at this executive career path using the format X position in a Y market place, with Z business challenge:


X position

Y market

Z business situation

Food Manufacture

PR & Comms

Food Manufacture


Food Distribution

PR & Comms

Food Distribution


Ernst & Young



Change Management

British Library

Marketing & Comms

Gvt Quango

Change Management


Deputy CEO, Comms

Civil Service



Chief Commercial Officer


Change Management

Here are the key questions that I ask, and hence problems that I see in the chart, and therefore the faulted career choice of taking the position at CQC:

  1. Was the British Library a full civil service job, or at a remote and non-high profile quango? I classify it as the later over the former, whilst the CQC was a very high profile regulator
  2. The CQC position was a full-on public profile launch project. All of her previous positions were mainly in Change Management

I hence personally find it ironic that Finney was sacked after less than six months in position at Nominet. Personally if I was advising her career, it seems like a bread and butter job for someone who is clearly skilled in executive PR, Comms and Marketing.


The problem with Finney’s move into CQC was that she was moving two of the three career positioning elements of an executive job at the same time.

In most forms of recruitment, where X and Y apply, then my career advice is only to move one element at a time, ie:

  • Current position: accountant in manufacturing
  • Next position: either accountant in new Y market; or X position in manufacturing

In executive recruitment, you can only again in most cases move one of the three elements at the same time. Changing two at the same time doesn’t just double the risk, it risks your whole career.

Good Luck!


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