Welcome to the Knowledge Centre

As global leaders in executive search for banking and markets business management, Armstrong Wolfe has a unique insight into the profiles of its leadership. The following is a summary of the skills and experience of this leadership group, as well as the evolution of the function itself. 

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As we move through 2018, now is the  time for the COO community to seize the  opportunity to shape the banking industry 
of tomorrow and address the imbalance  created by the pursuit of profit over  purpose in previous years. How this can be done, and where the future of banking rests, are key questions 
to be answered.

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I set up Armstrong Wolfe in 2011, moving forward in a challenging market that was struggling post-credit crunch. With this fresh start, I decided to plough my furrow in an area I had only previously tiptoed in and out of, that of business management and the chief operating officer community.

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Recently we have experienced the resurgence of the Chief of Staff (COS) role within banking. This was a pre-2018 role born in the heady times of plenty, an executive side-kick and luxury right-hand person to support the CEO. More recently this role has been defined as the right-hand and occasional fall-guy to the U.S. President. 

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In a glass-walled room on floor thirty-two, high in one of the towers of Canary Wharf, East London, three people sat quietly. One Asian, one Caucasian and one Hispanic. Two men and one woman, a representative group of the diversity found within today’s international banking sector.

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I first came across the role of ‘business manager’ when recruiting for Lehman Brothers in the late 1990s. At the time I was a partner in a new search business, Alexander Mann Global Markets, and up to this point in my career I had focused my efforts on middle-office and operations recruitment.

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When completing the series of papers for this book, it occurred to me that most, if not all, of its content and opinions had been captured, harvested and framed by the interaction with my primary sources, the COOs themselves.

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The principal responsibilities of the COO were established in response to the demands on business heads to have a reliable and senior resource at hand to deal with the myriad challenges and tasks they faced in relation to personnel, budget, operational processes and technological requirements.

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I set up Armstrong Wolfe in 2011, moving forward in a challenging market that was struggling post-credit crunch. With this fresh start, I decided to plough my furrow in an area I had only previously tiptoed in and out of, that of business management and the chief operating officer community.

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In a round table discussion, it became quickly apparent that while those present were the same in title, each role differed greatly. Organisational alignment varied from the fully integrated model – with the group COO ‘owning’ the markets’ COO and the markets’ team globally...

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The roles have a common name and common behavioural traits, but there ends their commonality. The limited reading material available on the role of the COO focuses almost exclusively on the COO within commerce and industry.

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Career management and how best to develop talent within the COO function have been the subjects of debate within banking for years. It is a question that anyone advancing a career within business management will ask themselves on occasion – and it is one that appears to offer no clear answer.

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New Horizons and
Troubled Waters

New horizons and a higher threshold for performance frames the future of business management, as CEOs seek quantification of value and COOs feel the squeeze of accountability.

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Women in the
COO Community
 

I have always felt that women make more effective COOs than men but have been hesitant to state this openly, fearing that my views on commonly associated behavioural skills such as influence, empathy, collaboration, integrity and so on would be seen as clichéd or stereotypical.

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From the Academies of Sandhurst

It is not purely the loyalty and romanticism linked to being ex-military myself that frames my thoughts on why ex-servicemen and -women make great COOs.

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The Q2 2016 Armstrong Wolfe COO forum was attended by over 50 COOs within markets and regional bankwide COOs in London and New York. Participants discussed how the COO community should seek to reshape the conversation with operations and technology.

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The financial crisis has had a profound effect on banks and financial institutions. One consequence of this is that the role of the COO has had to adjust to demonstrate an increasing range of abilities and knowledge to meet the demands of the agenda.

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Skill Set Migration for the COO

With evolution and with the demands of cost and control forced rapidly into an uncomfortable marriage, the profile of the operations head has had to change in response to these dynamics. Commerciality and an ability to look through a different lens to deliver entrepreneurial solutions are recognised requirements of such an executive post.

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Below the corporate face of banking rests a growing pool of highly experienced but unemployed bankers. They are the casualties of the turmoil in the financial services sector over the last seven years.

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One of the key challenges for any business is meeting the staffing demands for precise technical skill-sets at peak times: if one bank is looking, they are probably all looking. In new areas such as 1LOD, being first into this area may well deliver first-starter disadvantage, allowing the development of a subject-matter talent pool for the followers to access.

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