CEO & Board Practice at Heidrick & Struggles Analyzes Path to CEO


Jeffrey S. Sanders, Vice Chairman and Managing Partner of the North American CEO Practice for Heidrick & Struggles, an AESC member executive search and leadership consulting firm, recently analyzed the careers of all current Fortune 500 CEOs in an article at Forbes.com.

Aspiring CEOs need to create a path for themselves to become a potential CEO candidate. What does this path look like?

  • 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs began their careers in finance
  • 20% began their careers in sales and marketing
  • Even though finance is an important building block, only about 5% were promoted directly from CFO
  • More than half were promoted from the role of COO or President
  • Most companies value financial acumen, but above all, they value a strong operator

The article reports that executives rarely arrived at CEO from a finance role, with a few exceptions. Instead, more than three quarters came from an operating role.

  • Consulting at 4% ranked the least common early career experience among CEOs
  • More than three-fourths of today's top leaders were appointed internally
  • Less than a third of CEOs were "lifers" (those who had spent nearly their entire career at the company)
  • Average time to CEO appointment when rising through the ranks = 16 years
  • Average age at CEO appointment = 50
  • Technology offers the fastest path to CEO
  • Industrial companies offer the slowest path to CEO
  • About 45% of CEOs served as non-executive directors on public company boards before being named CEO

About the author

This article was written by Joe Chappell, Managing Director, Global Marketing at the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC).

About the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants

Since 1959, the AESC has set the standard for quality and ethics in executive search and leadership consulting worldwide. Because AESC members must commit and adhere to the AESC's industry and government recognized Code of Ethics and Professional Practice Guidelines, clients can be assured that AESC members are able to serve as trusted advisors for their most important engagements. As the voice for executive search and leadership consulting worldwide, today the AESC is comprised of more than 350 member firms, representing 8,000 executive search professionals in 75 countries. To learn more about the AESC and its membership, visit www.aesc.org.


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