Rotman Management

So, You Want to be a CEO?

AT SOME POINT IN THEIR CAREERS, most — if not all — executives aspire to become the CEO of their organization. And why not? These individuals tend to be highly ambitious, not just for themselves but for their business — and increasingly, for society. However, as with most things in life, aspiration is one thing, and execution is another.

To increase your odds of becoming a viable candidate, you will need to evolve yourself in some dramatic ways. You might well be a successful CFO, Chief Marketing Officer or head of an important operating division with a solid track record of achievement. But such experience — while likely necessary to be considered — is not sufficient to make you ‘CEO material’.

Based on my 40 years of experience working closely with a wide variety of CEOs as a board member and chair, two major considerations demand attention from a board as it comes to terms with succession planning — and attention from would-be CEOs as they plan their careers:

1. THE CAREFUL DETERMINATION OF ‘WHAT THIS ORGANIZATION NEEDS NOW’. Some companies might require a completely new direction. Just think of the challenges now facing General Electric. Others are trying to shift their focus. GlaxoSmithKline, for instance, recently transitioned to a consumer products CEO, Emma Walmsley, to succeed its pharma CEO, Sir Andrew Witty. Yet other companies might need radical cost cutting, as was the case at Canadian Pacific Railway before the late Hunter Harrison came on board.

In my experience, the important differences in the CEO’s job are significantly under-appreciated by most

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