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First-time CEO's: Meetings

Ben Legg
Former COO of Google, Europe

Learning outcomes

  • The frequency of meetings CEO's should organise with direct reports and the wider team

Executive Bio

Ben Legg

Former COO of Google, Europe

Ben is an engineer by training and spent over 10 years in the Royal Engineers in the British Army career before moving to McKinsey. In 2002, he moved to Coca-Cola where he ran teams across Eastern Europe before turning around the Indian business leading 12,000 salespeople. Ben then moved to Google where was COO of UK and Ireland for 2 years before being promoted to COO Europe where he was responsible for writing the monetisation blueprint of Google’s various properties. This involved defining the role of ad units, properties, interactions with agencies and partners, and devising how auctions should work. Ben then ran a Yellow Pages turnaround before running an ad-tech business for 6 years which ran $200m of ad spend through the major technology platforms. Ben is the author of Marketing for CEO’s and is on the Board of The Oxford Foundry where he is a mentor and investor to multiple startups. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Did you used to carve out a certain percentage of your time on the frontline and with direct reports?

Yeah. The most complex CEO job I’ve had was Adknowledge, which was a group CEO with lots of different advertising technology companies within it, so I had to manage all the central functions but also make sure I understood all the business units. I wouldn’t say I had a percentage. It was more a question of what needs to happen and how does it fit in?

For example, we would have a weekly meeting with the team to focus on the business. I would schedule a weekly one-to-one with each of my direct reports. It might be half an hour or an hour. What I’ve settled in on lately is scheduling a half-hour one-to-one with every direct report every week, but we’ll probably cancel one or two a month because of travel or whatever it might be, so you end up with two or three a month. That seems to work pretty well, whereas if you schedule one every two weeks, the risk is you skip one and suddenly, you’ve lost a month. When it’s scheduled every week, you can skip the odd one and it’s fine.

We would reflect on our goals every quarter, both mine and my direct reports and the communication process. We would have a weekly all-hands every week, in which the whole company would get together. I would do pulse lunches or breakfasts. The company was about 350 people. I’d want to have breakfast or lunch with every employee at least once a year. 350 by five, that’s about 70 a year — it’s one or two a week.

You start saying what needs to happen and with what frequency, and then you add it all up and say, “Is there time in the calendar?” You still need time for travel; we were a global company. You still need time for off-sites; we would probably have a strategy off-site maybe once or twice a year. You still need time for talking to journalists, working with the board, etc. You start stacking it up and putting it in the calendar and then saying what needs to drop.

For example, if one-to-ones end up dominating the calendar, you might say, “Let’s do them every two weeks,” or, “I’ve got too many direct reports, let’s reorganise the team.” Let’s say hiring and firing are taking up too much time; maybe you appoint a COO who can do that with you or you work out a more efficient process. It’s a constantly iterative thing, defining what you think needs to happen, seeing if you have time, and if not, then rearranging.

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