The New York Times published the findings of a fascinating new study by LinkedIn regarding the path to becoming a CEO. They examined 459,000 people who had worked as management consultants at one point in their career. They tried to discern some patterns regarding how and why some people reached the position of CEO of a company during their careers. Here is how Neil Irwin described the findings in his article in today's New York Times:
To get a job as a top executive, new evidence shows, it helps greatly to have experience in as many of a business’s functional areas as possible. A person who burrows down for years in, say, the finance department stands less of a chance of reaching a top executive job than a corporate finance specialist who has also spent time in, say, marketing. Or engineering. Or both of those, plus others. However, there is still such a thing as too much variety: Switching industries has a negative correlation with corporate success, which may speak to the importance of building relationships and experience within an industry. Switching between companies within an industry neither helps nor hurts in making it to a top job. These are some of the big findings in a new study of 459,000 onetime management consultants by the social network LinkedIn. Experience in one additional functional area improved a person’s odds of becoming a senior executive as much as three years of extra experience. And working in four different functions had nearly the same impact as getting an M.B.A. from a top five program.
The results do not surprise me. You need to master a diverse range of skills to become an effective CEO. You have to understand the different functions and disciplines within a firm. Therefore, accumulating a range of experiences tends to be helpful if you wish to become a chief executive. It also speaks to the importance of being a successful lifelong learner. You can't just build upon the expertise you have. You must take risks and venture into domains about which you are not an expert, and be willing to learn quickly.