External CEO in a family business: a real-life case

External CEO in a family business: a real-life case

18 May 2021
Gerrit Sarens
Gerrit Sarens
  • Gil Dumarey has been recently appointed external CEO at Fermette Food Group.

    We are curious about his experiences and advice.

    In general, we keep in mind that his arrival as external CEO has brought more openness and willingness for change into the company. The employees are also flourishing and growing in their roles. This will undoubtedly pay off in the longer term.

  • How to gain confidence as an external CEO?

    • Take enough time to talk things through
    • Get to know each other formally and informally
    • Organize enough informal moments with the family
    • Build an emotional connection with the family (Fermette grew out of a small butcher shop and Gil is the grandson of a butcher)
    • Respect the past
    • Set clear expectations
  • What are the positive surprises so far?

    • The family's openness and eagerness to learn
    • The willingness to change in terms of strategy and management approach
    • The open mind with which the family looks towards the future
  • What has been the biggest challenge so far?

    • Keeping the balance between respecting the family character and taking the lead as CEO
    • Daring to name and speak out about things from the past, especially on a human level
  • What are the positive developments?

    • People are gaining more confidence, take more responsibility and grow in their roles
    • People are genuinely more open to looking externally for advice and cooperation (setting up partnerships)
  • What are the short-term challenges?

    • Tapping into new markets and channels (new business models)
    • Rethinking the logistics chain
    • Strengthening the dynamic between the family and external people (through constant consultation)
    • Coaching young executives
    • Strengthening internal and external communication
  • What advice would you give to other external CEOs?

    • Take enough time to get to know the values and the vision of the family
    • Know the history of the company and the family
    • Organize regular 360° feedback moments with the family
    • Dare to be inspired externally (build partnerships and networks)

Struggles of a manager

Managers are

  • not or inadequately trained in this role


    • lack self-confidence
    • don’t know how to go from being a colleague to being a boss
    • need to loosen up on the command & control leadership style
    • must let go of the (technical) expert status
    • cannot give or accept constructive feedback
    • feel pressure to perform as manager
    • have difficulty building relationships
    • want to be liked by everyone or want to be the ‘bad boss’
    • play the hero
  • are struggling


    • stay too involved in operations
    • have trouble prioritizing
    • cannot delegate
    • fear conflict situations
    • disconnect from the team
    • deal with flawed strategic thinking
    • do not relate to higher management
    • lack clear communication skills
    • remain not self-aware
    • avoid difficult conversations
    • miss political antennas
    • ...
  • capable of more


    • need mental preparation as successor
    • need to be able to lead big changes ahead
    • need to learn to be emotionally resilient and in control
    • need to learn to make big decisions fast without all the information
    • must become persuasive presenters
    • need to learn how to cultivate their own personal brand
    • need to learn how to lead by example
    • manage by trust, not by fear
    • need to overly develop empathy
    • ...
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