While the year ahead is certain to present economic challenges for the UK, the 22nd CEO Survey by PwC has found business leaders recognise there are opportunities for growth and innovation. 

The CEOs who took part in the annual analysis of business attitudes also agreed it’s vital to upskill employees and prepare future generations for the ever-evolving workplace. 

One business leader whose finger is most certainly on the economic pulse is Mike Foy, CEO of the Isle of Man operations of the Utmost Group.  

A leading provider of international wealth solutions, his company has operations in the UK, Guernsey and Ireland, as well as the Isle of Man. As a group it has more than 240,000 customers with a total of £33 billion of investments. 

Scottish by birth, but having lived in Singapore and England, he has now lived and worked on the Isle of Man for nearly 25 years. 

We met Mike to find out what it takes for a modern CEO in the UK to be at the top of their game. 

Can you describe a typical ‘day in the working life’? 

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a typical day. I aim to have at least an hour to myself before most of our staff appear in the morning to clear away tasks that require some quiet thinking time. I do much the same at the end of the day to wrap up any loose ends from the day’s events.  

In between, I can be doing anything from a catch-up with the shareholders, one-to-ones with my executive team, meetings with staff or the inevitable fall-out from operating a genuine open-door policy! 

Last year you were named IOM Business Person of the Year …how did this feel and what do you see as the key leadership skills of Chief Executive? 

It was a lovely surprise but a great honour. I dedicated the award to everyone at Utmost, as they’re the ones who make my job easy.  

When you have so many talented and committed individuals behind you, it makes your role so much easier.  

That hearts and minds approach to leadership is vital, in my view. If people aren’t prepared to follow you, support you or respond to your challenges, you’ll never succeed as a leader. 

Last summer you announced six senior appointments to your Isle of Man operations. How important is recruiting key personnel and what criteria do you use? 

You’re only ever as good as those around you. They’re a reflection of your values and commitment, so it’s vital they convey creditability in you as a leader.  

From our most junior people upwards, I look for attitude and values first and foremost. If you don’t want Utmost to succeed, you’re wasting your time here.  

At a senior level I look for people I’d want to follow, if the roles were reversed. 

Utmost has just reached its “near-term” target of £30 billion in assets under management. That’s an incredible achievement. How do you motivate your team and ensure the company’s continual progress? 

As a leader you have to promote a compelling vision to those around you. Leading by example is a well-worn phrase but people need to believe their leader is as committed to the company’s objectives as they’re being asked to be.  

There are always setbacks but by acknowledging them, dealing with them openly and objectively and moving forward, people lose the fear of failure and instead focus on success.  

How does a Chief Executive help a company like Utmost achieve its long-term ambitions? 

I’m paid to make the big strategic decisions that shape our organisation’s future. However, that has to be balanced against myriad tactical decisions that all add up to keeping us on target.  

Never losing sight of our overall objectives is a given, but a leader’s skill is as much fine-tuning the journey itself as ensuring we reach our destination. 

Are you ‘boardroom-based’, do you have a hands-on approach or is it a bit of both? 

The skill of a good leader is to be able to engage at all levels. My role absolutely entails managing the board and shareholders, but the vast majority of my time is spent with my people.  

I run ‘new starter’ meetings, a monthly free-format staff forum and meet separately with our operational managers as a group every month. This gives me a great emotional calibration for how we’re performing as an organisation, culturally as well as commercially. 

Finally, what was the best advice you ever took that helped get you where you are today? 

An old boss of mine taught me that ‘encouraging’ strong performance from people is far more productive than ‘demanding’ it.  

People inherently want to be successful at what they do; let them and you’ll succeed too. 

If Mike’s story has inspired you to do your utmost for an executive position or to work your way towards a managerial role, take a look at the current vacancies online now.