News & Analysis

What Goes Into The Making Of A CEO?

CEOs in India

While great CEOs and their vision have made an undeniable change in the world, the question that comes to mind is what goes into the making of a CEO? What are the common qualities he or she possesses that makes the person the topmost leader in the organization? While researchers have time and again been curious to find a definitive answer to these questions, LinkedIn, through its latest research, attempts to answer what goes into making a CEO.

LinkedIn has recently studied over 12,000 profiles from 20 countries of 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. [Read the full report here]

In terms of their fields of education, the study shows that 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.

Also, a majority of the 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.

Needless to say, one do not become a CEO overnight and the study showed that a majority of the CEOs started their career by being a consultant, followed by, being a software engineer, analyst, sales manager and project manager before occupying the top slot. ‘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. 

The study also shows a gradual shift to the position of CEO with 72% of the current 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 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. 

The study shows that today’s CEOs aren’t a super diverse bunch: fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only three Fortune 500 CEOs are black. As diversity and inclusion becomes a higher priority for companies, tomorrow’s leaders will surely come from more diverse backgrounds—and make their own path. 

Finally, the LinkedIn report shows that while there is no single obvious path to becoming a CEO, studying at an elite institution, 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 concludes by stating: “The most important commonality across CEOs isn’t really 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.”

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