Press Release

New breed of digital officer showcases the DNA of transformational leaders

Report reveals winning combination of technical and communication skills that sets leading chief digital officers apart from the crowd

September 29, 2015

New York/London, September 29, 2015 – Digital innovation is now a "must have" for companies hoping to keep up in a competitive, technologically adept global market. A new report launched today by leading executive search and leadership firm, Russell Reynolds Associates examines the qualities a firm needs in its leadership team to embrace digital and keep up with the competition. The report reveals the archetype "Productive Disruptor", the digital trailblazers quickly becoming essential to forward thinking firms who bring together technical expertise and heightened interpersonal skills to drive their companies forward.

The study uses psychometric assessments of 28 of the world's most successful chief digital officers in leading global companies to determine the core qualities of transformational leaders. Specifically, the study looks at what it is that separates them from a sample of 4930 C-suite operating executives across the USA, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Five qualities provided the key differentiators that set Productive Disruptors apart from their peers, these are:

  1. Innovation: Productive Disruptors are 34 per cent more innovative, challenging traditional approaches, thinking outside the box, thinking abstractly and embracing new ideas more quickly;

  2. Disruption: Digital leaders are 32 per cent more likely to cut through bureaucracy, go against the grain and take risks;

  3. Boldness: The sample proved 23 per cent more willing to take the initiative, identify limitations, lead from the front and act decisively;

  4. Social adeptness: This group is also 21 per cent more socially confident, seeking to understand people and adapt themselves to different audiences;

  5. Determination: Productive Disruptors are 16 per cent more achievement oriented, optimistic and keen to seek higher levels of activity.

Rhys Grossman, co-leader of Russell Reynolds Associates' Digital Transformation Practice explains:
"Productive Disruptors don't simply aim to disrupt, they leverage their interpersonal skills to disrupt productively. They not only see the future and understand how to get there, they energise their colleagues to take the journey with them. In category after category – from having an entrepreneurial spirit to testing limits – this new generation of digital executives consistently scores higher across these five areas."

Tuck Rickards, who co-leads the Digital Transformation Practice, added:
"We identified productive disruptors as leaders who are agile, unafraid, and extremely skilled at overcoming organisational inertia. They can evaluate the threats and opportunities posed by digital advances and translate that into firm results.

These transformational leaders are thoughtful, engaging people on the front line of digital change across industries as diverse as agriculture, technology, media, and retail."

As part of the study, Russell Reynolds Associates conducted qualitative interviews with productive disruptors. Some extracts from this direct insight is below:

Erik Huggers, former president of Intel Media and newly announced Chief Executive Officer of Vevo says, "It often seems, more than anything else, that my job is to give people something to believe in. That doesn't appear to exist very much, I've found."

Tanya Cordrey, Chief Digital Officer at Guardian New and Media comments on her experience: "My primary role when I'm meeting with my fellow C-level executives is to be looking toward the future. They expect me to have answers, of course, but even more than that, I think I'm there to ask the right questions. But you should not make the future feel like science fiction. You want to be innovative. You achieve this by painting a picture of an ambitious, bold future that feels possible."

Another respondent commented: "It is a very public role. People in our position are clearly identified as change agents; you can't be a change agent if you whisper. To succeed in this role, to be seen as succeeding in this role, you have to speak up early and often. No one else will if you don't, I can assure you of that."

About Russell Reynolds Associates
Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leader in assessment, recruitment and succession planning for boards of directors, chief executive officers and key roles within the C-suite. With more than 370 consultants in 45 offices around the world, we work closely with public, private and nonprofit organizations across all industries and regions. We help our clients build teams of transformational leaders who can meet today's challenges and anticipate the digital, economic, environmental and political trends that are reshaping the global business environment.

Find out more at and follow us on Twitter: @RRAonLeadership

For more information
Susanne J. Mathony
Director, Marketing & Public Relations, EMEA & Asia
Russell Reynolds Associates
Maximilianstraße 12-14 | 80539 Munich | Germany
: +49 89 24 89 81 33 | M: +49 174 25 82 711

To arrange an interview with Rhys Grossman, please contact +44 0844 561 1416

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New breed of digital officer showcases the DNA of transformational leaders