Decoding Success: Key Attributes for Thriving PE-Backed CTOs and CPOs

on 08 | 15 | 2023

In the world of private equity, the talent at the helm of a portfolio company can make the difference between a lucrative exit and a missed opportunity. Familiarity with the nuances and challenges of the PE world can undoubtedly give a head start. However, in our quest to identify the finest Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Product Officer (CPO) candidates, we’ve realized that sometimes, the brightest gems lie just beyond traditional borders. 

As the leading executive search firm specializing in technology leadership roles, we’ve often been asked about the secret formula for a successful PE-backed CTO or CPO, especially when PE experience is not on the resume. So, how does one spot or shape this elusive talent? Let’s look at the attributes we believe are indispensable for CPOs and CTOs, even if they’re newcomers to the PE arena: 

  1. Disciplined Growth Perspective:

While any executive can laud growth achievements, it’s the nature of that growth that truly counts. Candidates should showcase a legacy of deliberate and judicious expansion. This implies tactically utilizing resources, making astute choices, and safeguarding continual progress. They prioritize sustainable, controlled expansion, ensuring the technology can support it without compromising efficiency or stability. A record of balancing growth with stability is paramount.  

  1. Mastery in Change Management:

PE-backed ventures frequently witness inorganic growth, with mergers and acquisitions forming the core of their strategies. This necessitates a leader who has proven adept at navigating technical debt, merging disparate systems, and ensuring smooth integrations. They must also lead their teams through organizational upheavals, acting as both a technical guide and a beacon of reassurance. 

  1. Speed & Adaptability:

PE-backed companies often operate on compressed timelines. An effective CTO/CPO must quickly understand the landscape, make informed decisions, and acclimate to new environments. It’s not just about speed, but speed with precision. A prospective CTO or CPO should exhibit the tenacity to rapidly gauge, assimilate, and evolve, all contributing to swift value realization. 

  1. Incentive Acumen:

PE-backed roles demand a refined understanding of incentives. Such executives should grasp the tangible allure of PE equity over erratic, lofty rewards. An appreciation for the long-haul benefits of aligning with a PE entity and the gratification stemming from consistent accomplishments can be strong indicators of their alignment with PE ethos. 

  1. Board-level Communication Proficiency:

A CTO or CPO’s role transcends their technical or product expertise. PE-backed companies require a CTO/CPO with stellar executive presence. They must not only manage their teams but also report upwards, partnering with the CEO to manage board communications and requests. Their ability to synthesize complex technological issues into understandable, actionable insights for the board is paramount. 

  1. Future-Oriented Vision:

True to the adage, “What’s gotten us here isn’t going to get us where we need to go,” the most coveted candidates often emanate from avant-garde settings. An emerging trait we’ve identified in the most successful CTOs and CPOs is the foresight to anticipate technological shifts and accelerate adoption of newer technologies. Candidates who have been exposed to disruptive players, who understand the potential of modern technologies and development tools, have a clear edge. They bring in fresh perspectives, challenge the status quo, and catalyze transformative changes.  


While past PE involvement is a coveted asset, it’s the mosaic of these attributes that truly signifies a candidate’s potential to flourish in a PE-backed setting. As we examine the intricacies of our executive searches, our expertise lies not just in identifying current PE talent but in foreseeing the emerging leaders who can thrive in the PE realm. They are the architects of disciplined growth, the captains of change, the agile adapters, insightful communicators, and above all, the visionaries who drive tomorrow. Contact us to learn why Riviera has become the go-to talent partner for private equity firms looking for the best technology leadership talent across their portfolios.