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“I’ll be back”: Mantra of the modern-day CEO?

|September 21, 2023
“I’ll be back”: Mantra of the modern-day CEO?

A successful company founder creates deep customer engagement, sparks broader innovation, and builds long-term value. But what if the vision fades when they leave?

This seems to be behind the news this week as Heather “Heather’s Picks” Reisman returned to Indigo Books & Music following the abrupt resignation of her successor after less than a year in the position. The former founder, CEO and Chair of Indigo agreed to return to the fray despite having just retired in August–a move which was appreciated by investors, with the stock climbing 24 per cent on the day of the announcement.

And Reisman wouldn’t be the first leader to do so. In fact, it seems like more than a few executives have taken a page out of the Tom Brady playbook. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently returned to the company less than a year after he retired, and former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz just stepped down after returning not once–but twice–to get the company back on track.

Pros and cons of a powerful brand ambassador

CEOs often serve as important brand ambassadors for a company. Customers, investors, and other stakeholders like to identify with a human face behind the corporate brand, which in turn helps the company generate a positive reputation.

However, the challenge with an iconic CEO is that should they leave, the company must be able to maintain the vision put in place, continue to engage stakeholders and, most importantly, continue to grow. In the case of Iger, he was brought back when his successor, Bob Chapek, was blamed for missteps during the pandemic, resulting in Disney shares declining to a 20-year low. On Iger’s return, the share price rose by six per cent, with one market analyst commenting: “Maybe the old hand on the tiller is what's required.”

Indigo’s Pick: Heather Reisman

As a founder, Reisman was closely tied to the Indigo corporate brand. She was the face of a new retail concept bookstore in Canada, helped launch one of the first e-readers, and, as book sales declined, successfully transformed Indigo into a creative housewares outlet. The iconic “Heather’s Picks” branding on select books further cemented her image as central to the brand.

Even as the company began to post losses from the secular decline in book sales and was further impacted by a cyberattack, Reisman’s reputation was not affected.

In coming back on board, Reisman will have to work to reassert her vision and manage expectations on the progress of a turnaround. Indigo reported a net loss of $50 million in its past fiscal year, not aided by inflation continuing to impact discretionary merchandise sales. The best road forward is for Reisman to put in place a credible roadmap for a return to profitability and reassert her voice as an innovative retailer that understands her customers–and maybe this time, with an ironclad succession plan.

A successful executive profiling roadmap

When working with companies on their corporate narrative and executive profiling, we always suggest they build up a few additional corporate spokespeople aside from the CEO. Having diverse voices from a company creates more points of connection with the public and engenders trust for the entire organization–especially if each individual highlights their unique expertise and viewpoint while aligning with the overall corporate narrative. Should there be a change at the executive level, there is less chance of a break in communications or a need to reset.

With the effective implementation of a strategic plan to guide Indigo through its current difficulties and return to retail leadership, combined with a corporate narrative that incorporates the founder’s vision, Heather Reisman could avoid becoming a boomerang CEO and finally enjoy a well-deserved retirement knowing the company she founded almost 30 years ago has a solid roadmap for success.