Helping Shape Tomorrow's Leaders: Try the 'CEO for One Month' Initiative

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek January 11, 2021
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Helping Shape Tomorrows Leaders: Try the CEO for One Month Initiative

​Jordan Topoleski spent a good part of July participating in Zoom strategy calls with executive teams at the Adecco Group, reviewing operational goals, attending weekly sales meetings, sitting in on a monthly financial review, talking with regional operations teams and attending COVID-19 steering committee meetings.

It wasn't the typical way a 20-year-old college student enjoys his summer. But it is the kind of thing a CEO does on a regular basis. Topoleski was a rising Harvard University junior when the Fortune 500 company named him its U.S. "CEO for One Month" in 2020.  

Topoleski won the North America spot over 5,800 U.S. applicants and was one of 34 young adults named CEO in their countries of residence. During their brief tenure—which comes with a $10,000 paycheck in the U.S.—program participants worked alongside senior leaders in sales, human resources, marketing and other departments of the Adecco Group and its subsidiaries. 

Creating Future Leaders

The Adecco Group sees this program as a way to help shape the leaders of tomorrow.

"We want to have our handprint" on the careers of these emerging professionals, said Sarah Davis, vice president at the Adecco Group U.S. Foundation. 

An organization can benefit from seeing a problem through the lens of a 20-year-old, she added. "We want to make the future work for everyone. What would attract [young people] to our company? What would keep them in our company? That kind of insight [around] engagement [and] retention is invaluable."

Topoleski was interested in learning how a large company remains relevant and understanding trends in the field.

"I knew this was really a brand-new era of leadership that's being ushered in" during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, with a major question being "How is leadership defined in this period of so much change?"  

Topoleski said the Adecco Group's emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion impressed him. 

"I was really astounded by some of the best practices, to really have a willingness to build a sense of inclusion and community in this virtual world," he said. One example was a 30-minute brainstorming session on how to build protein energy bars using an old family recipe.

He said he was pushed "to take more of a tough-love approach to leadership and provide regular feedback to others." He also learned the importance of taking a data-driven approach to strategic decisions.

"I've experienced business plans changing on a weekly—rather than yearly—basis," he wrote on LinkedIn. "And some of the best decisions have been made by looking to the numbers." 

[Launching a career in human resources? See our Emerging Professionals & Student Guidance resources.]

The program is a "unique internship opportunity," said Joyce Russell, president of the Adecco Group U.S. Foundation, noting that Topoleski's experience gave him insight into different leadership styles. "Jordan saw that the soft skills were so important for a leader—their empathy, their ability to build a culture."

There is demand for a new leadership profile, noted Alain Dehaze, the Adecco Group CEO.

While announcing the 2020 winner earlier this year, Dehaze stated that modern-day leaders will need to reinvent themselves with a focus on emotional intelligence and that soft skills development will be critical. "[This] is an excellent opportunity to identify, develop and learn from the leaders of tomorrow as they prepare to lead in an uncertain future." 

Being CEO for One Month

Finalists for the Adecco Group's program attend a competitive boot camp. Topoleski and others attending the U.S. boot camp virtually participated in activities such as a three-hour Italian cooking class hosted by the wife of the Adecco Group's U.S. chief financial officer. 

While the cooking class was fun, it also was instructive seeing how participants worked, Russell said. Did they prepare ahead of the class—pre-chopping the onions, for example—despite being told not to do so? Did they log on to the class late? How well did they work under pressure? Did their work environment—the kitchen—appear orderly or chaotic? 

Those serving as CEO interns represent a variety of college majors: finance and economics, statistical sciences, computer science, HR analytics and supply chain/operations management, organizational development, artificial intelligence, and business administration. Topoleski studied financial services and blockchain technology; during three months in 2019 he studied cultural economics, innovation and sustainable design at the University of Sienna in Italy. 

In previous years, those shadowing CEOs spent much of the month flying to cities where the Adecco Group is located, meeting with executives one-on-one, participating in team meetings or working on a project in conjunction with the president of one of the business lines. All meetings with executives, clients and partners were virtual this year. 

Following his stint as CEO for the U.S. office, Topoleski attended a three-day online boot camp as one of 10 finalists for Global CEO for One Month. 

Topoleski won the global spot—the first U.S. candidate to do so—which comes with a $17,707 paycheck (15,000 euros). He will serve alongside Dehaze, who is headquartered in Zurich, during the summer of 2021. 

Where Do They Go from Here?

Some participants have started their own businesses. Ben Conard, the 2019 U.S. CEO, opened a chocolate shop in Long Island, N.Y., in 2016, the same year he received his degree in business administration and management from State University of New York at Genesco. 

The founder of Five North Chocolate, a Fair Trade Certified and Certified LGBT Business Enterprise, Conard was featured in Forbes magazine in January 2019. He said being named CEO for One Month was an opportunity to hone his entrepreneurial skills and meet inspiring senior leaders.

Topoleski, who will graduate in 2022, took the 2020 fall semester off to work full time on his technology consulting company, Inverted Agency, based in New York City. Meanwhile, he consults on various initiatives, leads webinars and writes blogs for the Adecco Group. 

Other program participants have gone on to work for the Adecco Group. 

Athlete Savannah Graybill graduated from American University in 2010 with a degree in broadcast journalism. Five years later, she participated in the Adecco Group's Athlete Career and Education program, which works with Olympians and Paralympians, before being named U.S. CEO for One Month that year. Today, she works in corporate communications for the Adecco Group, when not competing as a member of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

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