How to become a CEO

How do you become a CEO? Is there a precise blueprint to achieve this prestigious title? What professional and personal qualities does this position require? Technically, anyone can serve as the CEO, but usually those who perform well in some way and have strong leadership skills get the job.

Key points

  • The person at the helm of each company has a chief executive officer (CEO) who is responsible for overseeing the business and its strategic vision, and often earns high salaries for it.
  • To become a CEO, it is very useful to have an MBA degree from a top business school and the social networks and education it provides to students.
  • Having the right personality and impressive experience will also help drive you to the top of the company.


There is no law that the CEO must have attended a university or must have a master’s degree. However, few people today reach the top of the corporate ladder without formal education.

Why is formal education so important? There is no easy answer to this question. However, completing university courses does provide opportunities for exposure to multiple disciplines. Now is the time to think, interact and share ideas with others. This is a valuable experience for the CEO. Of course, these skills can be acquired elsewhere. Because such courses are usually competitive, degrees from Ivy League schools or other top institutions sometimes earn higher levels of trust.

Some well-known CEOs with degrees from top schools include:

  • Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay (EBAY)-Bachelor of Princeton University, MBA from Harvard University
  • John Bogle, former CEO of Pioneer Group-Bachelor of Princeton University
  • Roberto Goizueta, former CEO of Coca-Cola (KO)-Bachelor of Yale University

Many CEOs have business degrees. The degree can be in economics, management, finance or other business-related disciplines. However, many famous CEOs dropped out or never attended college:

  • Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group
  • Dell Computer (DELL) founder and CEO Michael Dell (Michael Dell)
  • Bill Gates, co-founder and former CEO and chairman of Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

Personality Traits

Having a degree from a first-class school and a special understanding of the company’s industry is a good quality. However, these qualities alone do not guarantee that a person will be at the top of the company ladder. Personality traits can also affect an individual’s ability to achieve the status of CEO. Generally, the CEO is:

  • Excellent communicator, trader and manager
  • Extroverts eager to go out and tell the company’s story
  • Able and willing to present a cohesive vision and strategy to employees
  • Can win respect

Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE), is an excellent example of his ability to win respect, even as a low-level engineer of General Electric with vision. There, the superior noticed his ability, and the rest is history.


Generally speaking, a person must have extensive experience in the company’s field to become a CEO. The job of the CEO is to provide the company with a vision and route. Without a wealth of experience and working knowledge of the potential risks and opportunities the company faces, this is challenging.

Previous senior management experience is usually also required. After all, unless they have previous experience in managing and/or supervising other employees, how can one expect a person to run a multi-million or billion-dollar company with hundreds or thousands of employees?

Jack Welch is also a good example. He joined General Electric in 1960 as an engineer and was promoted to vice president and vice chairman before becoming CEO in 1981. When he got there, he knew everything about the company and the scenery. He has also held senior positions before.

Another example of a CEO with extensive experience in his field is Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Novell and the executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. (GOOG). Schmidt was engaged in research at Bell Labs in his early years. He served as the Chief Technology Officer of Sun Microsystems. These experiences helped him get the position of CEO and become his success story today.

Then there is Andrea Jung, the former CEO and chairman of Avon Products (AVP) and the first female CEO in company history. Ringier has extensive experience in retail. After graduating from Princeton University, she worked at Bloomingdale’s, where she was part of the management trainee program. From there, she also worked for Neiman Marcus, another high-end company, where she served as executive vice president. When she finally came to Avon, she began to serve as a consultant, then promoted to chief operating officer, and finally as chief executive officer.

Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of XRX, is another example of someone with extensive experience in her field. In the mid-1970s, she started as a sales representative. She later served as vice president of human resources before being promoted to senior vice president. All in all, it was about 25 years before she became CEO. At that time, she already knew the industry very well.

Bottom line

Although some people are born leaders, most people are nurtured. It takes years of hard work to become a CEO. It is advisable to have extensive experience in the corporate field. Finally, those who work at a lower level within the organization may have an advantage because they can be said to know the company better than any outsider.


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