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Beyond the C-Suite: Journey from CEO to the Board Room and Peer Advising

A conversation with Reuben Cohen and Jim Dwyer: Continuing to contribute while creating time and space for a wider range of pursuits.

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Posted On FEB 29, 2024 

Jim Dwyer has had quite a career.


He started with Proctor & Gamble, spent a decade with Kraft General Foods, another decade with Tropicana/PepsiCo, and, after consulting in the retail and private equity space, went on to spend a decade-plus as CEO of several private equity-backed food companies.


Jim’s expertise has been in helping organizations unlock profitable growth. He has led businesses across a wide range of industries and through a myriad of economic conditions and corporate M&A.


Four years ago, he decided to transition out of the C-Suite into a portfolio of Board roles and soon joined LHH’s ICEO team as a Peer Advisor and Executive Mentor.


Looking back at the last two decades of his career—and at the work he’s now doing with ICEO—he has seen a few themes play out repeatedly, which were the focus of the discussion. They touch on insights from a rich and diverse career, culture, and the inevitable personal challenges that can emerge unexpectedly to complicate an executive’s life.


Insights from a rich and varied career


Jim has led businesses and been on Boards in public, PE-backed, and private capital settings, including leading one company through two private equity turns before being acquired by a public company.


Early in his career, he worked in large, public CPG companies, where he experienced first-hand how a public capital structure required the constant delivery of quarterly targets and guidance. He understood that this rendered decision-making disciplined, quantitative, and, at times, slow.


When he started running a high-growth company in a PE-backed environment, timelines accelerated. Jim found that limited resources required aggressive decision-making and resource deployment, and he was invigorated by the focus on an exit date for the investors that created urgency and alignment.


Recently, Jim has enjoyed his work as a Director on the Boards of privately capitalized companies. He has found these management teams as skilled as any he has worked with in public and PE-backed settings. What is different is the focus on multi-decade, if not generational, returns that support more patient decision-making processes.


“As I talk with executives looking to transition into leadership roles in organizations with capital structures different from those where they ‘grew up’, I enjoy working with them to get a good grip on what it takes to be successful in the new environment.”


Culture matters, especially at the most senior levels of the organization


Jim compares organizational culture to the weight-bearing beams supporting a house—there’s no way to change it without tearing it down and starting again. As he works with clients exploring opportunities with new companies—be it as an executive, Board member, or advisor—he imparts a lesson that he, like many executives, learned the hard way: If the culture doesn’t fit well at the start, it probably won’t ever fit particularly well.


Jim learned this lesson in the wake of a mid-career change to a new company without thorough due diligence on its culture. He realized the need to learn as much as you can about the company before signing up for a new opportunity. That’s why you should connect with current and former leaders to learn about their experiences.


“Being direct and candid with these leaders about the company’s culture and decision-making processes is well worth it. Ask for examples of how culture influences decision-making and accountability—where it makes it easy, and where it makes it hard.”


He adds that it’s fair game to ask for employee engagement surveys—they’ll be your responsibility soon enough. Those viewpoints can offer you a great sense of what you’re stepping into.


Curating the right post-C-Suite portfolio takes focus… and sometimes a nudge


As Jim began planning how to wind down his day-to-day corporate career, he spent time thinking about how to continue to contribute while having greater control over his time. Like others, Jim found that it’s about deciding what you are transitioning to versus what you are retiring from.


“As I started to think about my post-corporate future, time seemed almost infinite—until it didn’t. Just as I was warming up, I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma.”


Fortunately for Jim, it was treatable, and he is now a few years into living with the “free” label. That interlude was a powerful reminder of the need to keep moving forward and creatively define and curate a portfolio of activities that could keep him engaged and contributing while carving out time and space for pursuits that the C-Suite pace typically wouldn’t allow.


“The reminder that time isn’t infinite helped me focus on balancing what I really wanted to do across the whole canvas of my life. I ended up building a portfolio of for-profit and non-profit Board work in areas I love. I’m also spending time with family and friends in familiar and new places.”


Jim has discovered how much he enjoys partnering with executives who’ve put their heart and soul into their careers and are ready to take on something new, whether it is a different role, a significant promotion, or a reimagined future.


“I was lucky to find my way into LHH’s ICEO Peer Advising program. It’s such a privilege to meet so many interesting, accomplished leaders and help be that catalyst for finding fulfillment, happiness, and success in their what’s next.”



Reuben Cohen

Reuben Cohen is the North American Managing Director for LHH's International Center for Executive Options (ICEO). He and his team work as trusted advisors to CEOs and other top-of-the-house leaders, guiding them through career inflection points to a variety of new paths.



Learn more about ICEO’s portfolio of support for executives and senior leaders at