The Route to Becoming CEO Depends on Where You Live

A new study revealed the different paths that employees take to become CEOs, which varies country to country.
The Route to Becoming CEO Depends on Where You Live
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Rising to the top of your company is no easy task -- but it is doable. In the U.S., if you’ve done your time at a company then you’ve got a higher likelihood of rising through the ranks. Although that’s not the case in every country.

A recent study by executive search and consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles uncovered what it takes to get to the top of a company. For Americans, rising to the top takes time. Most CEOs in the U.S. are older than those in other countries. They are also mostly male, highly educated and have backgrounds in finance. And if you want to climb the corporate ladder, you’ve got to get in early -- most CEOs are hired from within a company's ranks. In fact, 85 percent of CEOs for American companies were promoted internally.

Related: 25 Insightful Quotes From 25 Legendary CEOs

If you don’t have the patience to wait for that promotion, try seeking a career path in another country. In European nations such as France, Germany and the U.K., CEOs are much younger than your typical American business leader. On average, Americans spend 20 years at a company before becoming its leader, while it takes at most 14 years in Europe.

However, if you hold a job in one of those European countries, you don’t need to wait around for 14 years to get that shiny CEO title. Many companies are willing to hire externally: In France, 52 percent of CEOs are hired from outside its staff. Not only that, but many companies are willing to hire leaders from outside the country. In the U.K., 40 percent of CEOs come from other countries.  

Related: 5 Things You Need to Do to Set Yourself Up for a Promotion

Education, unsurprisingly, plays a big role in scoring that executive title. In every surveyed country, nearly all CEOs hold an undergraduate degree, and most hold more advanced degrees such as a Master’s or doctoral. Eighty-six percent of French CEOs hold advanced degrees, and more than two-thirds of CEOs in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany do.

Sadly, something that each of these countries have in common is the lack of women in executive positions. In the U.S., women account for 8 percent of CEO roles, while this number is smaller in Europe. In the U.K., only 6 percent of CEOs are female, in Germany only 2 percent and a disheartening 1 percent in France. Unfortunately, the U.S. has seen a 1 percent decline in female CEOs between 2015 and 2016.

Related: Want That Promotion? Rein in Your Quirks, and Be a True Team Player.

“The small progress women have made over the years in being named to CEO roles has stalled,” said Heidrick & Struggles’ Bonnie Gwin. “Forward-looking companies should be mindful that their succession plans include both women and men, with a particular focus on ensuring they gain the critical experiences necessary to serve as CEO.”

Edition: September 2017

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