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

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


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