How to Become a C.E.O.? The Quickest Path Is a Winding One

from NYTs

How does a person get to be the boss? What does it take for an ambitious young person starting a career to reach upper rungs of the corporate world — the C.E.O.’s office, or other jobs that come with words like “chief” or “vice president” on the office door?

The answer has always included hard work, brains, leadership ability and luck. But in the 21st century, another, less understood attribute seems to be particularly important.

To get a job as a top executive, new evidence shows, it helps greatly to have experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible. A person who burrows down for years in, say, the finance department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than a corporate finance specialist who has also spent time in, say, marketing. Or engineering. Or both of those, plus others.

However, there is still such a thing as too much variety: Switching industries has a negative correlation with corporate success, which may speak to the importance of building relationships and experience within an industry. Switching between companies within an industry neither helps nor hurts in making it to a top job.

These are some of the big findings in a new study of 459,000 onetime management consultants by the social network LinkedIn. Experience in one additional functional area improved a person’s odds of becoming a senior executive as much as three years of extra experience. And working in four different functions had nearly the same impact as getting an M.B.A. from a top-five program.

This interactive graphic shows how different traits affected a former consultant’s likelihood of ending up as a top executive of a midsize or large company.

More here.

Posted in Careers, Leadership and tagged , , , .


  1. If you work in finance or accounting for long enough with enough experience under your belt they will believe you are competent enough to make the money decisions of behalf of the shareholders. Well that statement was once true back in the day where everything was straightforward and black and white but now with the ever changing world around us there top tier executives must be able to know how technology or market works in addition to understanding money. Some hope that becoming a CEO would be a linear career but now it’s a non-linear career which can be confusing what that means to some. To simply put it you must be able to handle a wide array of different roles such as accountant and marketer so you can know to keep the company in the good spotlight while keeping it profitable. Personally, this is very interesting for me as I have always enjoyed taking on many different roles in order to get the larger picture and that can correlate to making the company successful. I don’t think that being able to take multiple roles is a step backwards in order to appease shareholders but actually a step forward in business. Now CEOs will be able to relate to these new departments that are now emerging such as technology related departments and marketing. With these new experiences you are more likely to become a CEO if you hold more roles in your past jobs than if you graduate from a top tier MBA program. Also with 6 roles your nearly twice as more likely to become a CEO than someone who held 1 role in their past job. Also I agree with this new requirements of CEO’s because in order to run a company you have to be well rounded and not simply knowing how to make sure your company makes a profit. Being well rounded and knowing a bit of everything is the new key to running a successful business as you are able to bring together all the different parts of the company to unite and operate as one in order to help eachother.

  2. This article to me is only to be read by and for a man because today less and fewer women are getting to be CEO. But if women do have those skills and more they would not get that promotion to be CEO. Today society does not view women and men on the same spectra. They believe men have more authority and are less demanding than women. Even if we bring up women pay rate or statistic about women being in high position roles we would see that it is low. Instead, we will see that it mostly men in those roles.
    This article saying those are the two skills needed to be a CEO is only for one gender and not the other. Men and women with the same years of experience will not get the same promotion each one deserves. And even if for the slight chance that women get that position they will not be treated the same way a men would be treated. Men will view it that as a women have more power over them which they will disapprove of. On the other hand, those two skills are very important for a CEO in a workplace. To have to be the able variety of knowledge from several diverse fields of business will help improve the efficiency of the corporation. By having the skill to be versatile a CEO will be able to adapt to the changes that are taking place around them in the workplace.

  3. In today’s society, it seems as if college students and even kids are mainly focusing on one task or one subject and specializing in one thing. They spend hours and hours trying to master one area of business or sports, and more often than not, it only leads them to becoming extremely burnt out but it also limits them down the road if their career doesn’t work out or they experience a shift in their interests. There is a very fine line between putting all of your effort into one subject and trying to be the best in your field and gaining experience in other fields to help you down the road. This article is a great example of showing how the path to the top is a “winding one” and that experience in multiple fields is crucial for top executive positions. Yes you need to be advanced in the main field, but if you have no knowledge in other areas, you won’t be able to help out other people in the company, understand their thought process, and ultimately have a successful business.

    For me personally, I am studying global supply chain in school. My studies encompass a wide variety of subjects such as transportation, warehousing, procurement, manufacturing, etc. If I wanted to really dive into one area, I could probably become really good at what I do, but I would most likely stay in that field for a large portion of my career and never get to the top. If I wanted to be a supply chain executive and follow what this article says, I would get an internship in one area, hopefully get a job in another area, and over the years bounce around to gather information about departments. With all of this knowledge and experience, it would make me a lot more attractive as a supply chain executive. It is also very important that I gain experience in areas like accounting and finance and marketing. I need to find a balance in these areas, not bounce around too much, and network to the greatest of my abilities if I want to get to the top one day.

  4. Being a boss is not easy at all, great power entails great responsibility. Because making decisions means that if things go well, you are responsible and if they go wrong, too. Not everyone is able to withstand that degree of pressure, so it is not surprising that people who reach these positions have followed very similar paths. The majority believe that in order to run a company it is necessary to have studied in one of the best universities in the world or focus on that goal since leaving the career or having an impeccable curriculum with which it is impossible to be told that you are not at all. But what has made them bosses are not their studies themselves, or their CV, the key has been their attitude towards work. Because what unites them are three types of experiences that have one thing in common: courage.
    The road to the big office does not go straight. Sometimes it is necessary to go down a step or stay at the same level for a while trying different things to gather the experience necessary to become the boss.
    There is nothing more frightening than having to do something and not knowing how. But sometimes it is necessary to take that leap, take a chance and see if it works. That is what much of the bosses did in the past.
    The key is to be open to everything and have the ability to learn and actively seek opportunities. Most likely, the most attractive and challenging jobs are not going to meet them first. Therefore, it is advisable to ask for more responsibilities or participate in projects that require a lot of work and very different, and always say yes to the opportunities that arise.
    On numerous occasions, impossible projects come that others before you had started and that have remained undone. There comes the opportunity to teach others how prepared you are for a more important position, to show that you can with anything, that you know how to work under pressure, make decisions, … that is, you know how to be boss.
    In short, you have to be brave. Those who reach the highest position are those who risk, sometimes it will work out well and sometimes not, but those who followed these steps managed to become the CEO of important companies much faster than those who sat waiting for an opportunity to come.

  5. This article was about how to get an executive position at your company. The article points out that by quickly google searching it, or looking at executives linked in profiles, it seems like a pretty straight path to the top. However, that is not a realistic path for most people. The article breaks down a study of nearly half a million people who have become executives. The key takeaways to becoming an executive were having a particular variety of skills, MBA’s from distinguished programs, and location, matter. They also discovered that men have a slight advantage. I think that these all make sense. To be an executive it is crucial that you have experience in different areas that are relevant to your company. I believe that a good boss knows how each role works. This will also allow him to know how to more effectively manage his employees. It also makes sense that having an MBA from a top program is important. Having an MBA can separate someone from the pack, that extra education may make someone a better boss. I think that a lot of millennials have the aspiration to become executives. That is a good aspiration to have, but I think it is important that people know that it is not as straightforward as it seems. Although everyone’s path is different, hopefully this study can provide a more clear road map for asprining employees.

  6. This article is very relevant to this day and age. The need to have knowledge of other fields shows that you are capable of not just knowing about other fields but that you are also capable of working in that field and understanding the workings of that area. To be a leader, you not only have to be able to understand your own field, but you have to understand the workings and details of other fields to understand how they all work together and how they all effect each other. It may seem like it is a lot to ask to for a future CEO to understand the workings of multiple fields but if you are actually working in that managerial field, not having knowledge will end up hindering you in your ability to do the work properly and efficiently. Along with this, we have to remember that there is a balance between everything. You do not want to be someone who is switching fields every five years or so because then you will not be able to develop properly in any field and will deter your progression up the corporate ladder. According to the article, “Switching industries has a negative correlation with corporate success, which may speak to the importance of building relationships and experience within an industry.” There are steps that you have to hypothetically complete in each field that you enter so that you are able to get the full experience.  I believe this is true because if you want to be a leader of a company filled with many different areas and people, you need to have some knowledge and understanding of everything that is taking place.  If you have substantial knowledge of just your own area, then you would be more fit to be the manager or leader of just that one area.  

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