While great CEOs and their vision have made an undeniable change in the world, a fact that is often forgotten is that most CEOs, no matter how successful they are today, started out small. No one is instantly catapulted to the very top, and it is the journey of becoming a CEO that makes a CEO.
This begs the question, how does the CEO become a CEO? What does he/she do differently in order to be at the topmost leadership position in a company? Is there a checklist one follows or are there any common identifiable patterns? While one might not be able to find a definitive and objective answer to these questions, LinkedIn, through its research, attempts to answer these questions.
In April 2018, LinkedIn studied over 12,000 profiles from 20 countries that belonged to individuals who are the CEO of organizations with more than 50 employees, studying their educational qualification, first jobs, and the last job position before they became CEO.
The LinkedIn study comes with a disclaimer: these are how things are at the moment and not necessarily predictive of how things will be in the future. The report says that as diversity and inclusion become a higher priority, the leaders of tomorrow might be very different from the ones that we see today.
Here are some of the major findings of the study:
Field of Education
- Computer Science was, without any surprises, the most popular field of study for CEOs. Considering how some of the most valuable organizations in the world today are technology companies, this is expected.
- Economics, Business, Banking & Finance and Electrical Engineering come next in the last, in that very order.
Place of Education
- Most CEOs have studied at Stanford University, followed by Penn State University, Harvard Business School, University of California, Berkley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- However, just a third of all the CEOs have a Master’s degree of MBA.
- A majority of the CEOs started their career by being a consultant, followed by, being a software engineer, analyst, sales manager and project manager (in that order).
- ‘Business Development’ emerged to be one of the most common functions of the first job undertaken by CEOs – twice as common as sales, the second-most common function.
- However, these jobs might not necessarily be their first jobs, as members may have listed only more significant jobs or even missed out on adding it on their LinkedIn profile.
- 72% of the CEOs held the role of a Director or a higher role before becoming a CEO for the first time.
- Furthermore, they were in that role for an average period of six years before making it to the very top. This indicates that the climb is a slow and steady process, which requires individuals to prove their reliability, stability, and competence.
- However, only 20% of the CEOs were promoted internally, and 80% were brought in externally.
While there is no single sure-shot path to becoming a CEO, studying at an elite school, establishing a career on the back of consultancy or business development roles and maintaining a senior position for years together are some starting points. However, even a combination of these indicators might not be enough to identify potential ‘CEO-material.’ The study rightly sums up, “The most important commonality across CEOs isn’t any particular school or role—it’s the ability to handle complex problems, inspire others, and prove themselves at every stage of their career path.”