Hi all, I’m just 3-4 years into my career and I aim to become a CEO of a mid-sized company. In order to navigate there sooner I am looking for advice on what sort of roles or opportunities to pursue, any distance learning MBA options that someone might recommend and any back door entry/secret sauce that you wish you had known earlier. Sincerely looking forward to your guidance🙏🏻

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Pursue management roles with increasing responsibilities. You should be a director next year and a VP five years after that. Stay 3 years as a VP then explore SVP roles. C-suite roles after two years.. That’s usually the progression. If you look at CEO job openings, the minimum required experience is 12-15 years. There is a reason for that.

You should have solid accomplishments, financial acumen, and strategic skills at every level because you need those to get promoted to the next role. You can’t rush the process…there isn’t a back door or secret sauce… because you will be accountable to the board of directors, stakeholders, and all employees so you must learn the skills to advance to the next level.

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For OP
Consulting has a different progression. Typically, you’ll move through being a business analyst, associate, engagement manager, associate partner, and then partner. Expect to stay at least 3 years in each level. Getting to senior partner (or director) takes even longer.

Being a Partner involves doing more business development and managing clients. This means gaining more clients and expanding the business portfolio. It’s almost a sales and marketing role.

A CEO has people to do their business development. Traditional CEOs have more of an executive decision making role and focuses on strategy.

The equivalent of a Partner in management consulting is a VP.

You need to be good at public speaking and articulating your thoughts masterfully. Be a strategic thinker and be able to talk about your vision. Be great at delegating responsibilities to the right people. It took me 15 years to get to a c-suite role at a mid size company.

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Thanks for those insights! I have a small follow up question - what would you say is a good yardstick to make a 2 page resume? There's this unsaid rule for 1 page resume for experience under 5years or so, but what are your thoughts?

It’s a good question but the path to CEO isn’t typically a straight path and career progression varies greatly based on the size of the company and industry. Roles get much more competitive the higher you go.

To get there, you must be well liked, well respected, and well connected. A little luck doesn’t hurt either.

I’m in tech and the easiest and most common path to CEO is to start your own company once you have those skills. Growing a small start up to midsize is difficult (1 in 10 chance of making it past 5 years), but arguably easier than competing your way to CEO in a corporation.

Most early tech founders are super technical. Eventually, they turn the reigns over to someone with a GM or sales background.

On the corporate path, most CEO level executives have a technical background somewhere in their history but became more customer focused over time. I don’t know of many CEOs without a heavy dose of sales or sales related activity somewhere in their background. Many don’t go direct sales but interface with customers as a product/solution divisional P&L owner.

Most show progressive responsibility, but its rarely with the same company all the way. There are a few exceptions (Neri at HPE) but getting varied experience with different organizations in different functions is important. Sometimes that means consulting with different companies and one eventually hires you (Whitten at Dell)l, but most of the time it’s bouncing every 3-4 years early and then settling in with a company that has a path for you.

You might also get CEO experience with a smaller company and then get hired to do the same type of work in progressively larger companies (path I’m on). I’m currently working on a CRO role with a path to CEO in 3-4 years for example at a small company, moving from an AVP/SD role at a large company.

Last few things to reiterate (Aside from the obvious which is to do great work and progressively more challenging work).

Find a mentor/advocate everywhere you go. Power is almost always given, not taken, and you need someone to advocate and clear a path for you at every level. This rarely is just your direct manager at higher levels.

Similar vein, but build a rock solid network and reputation in the industry you want to work in. You don’t get to the top alone. You’ll also want to pull in trusted folks to work with you once you get there.

Good luck.

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Thanks for your advise! I greatly appreciate it.

Following this. Also any proven ways to can share to improve strategic thinking skills?

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Most of that improvement will come from doing. Check out Annie Duke’s “Thinking in Bets” and go make some small mistakes - wisdom comes from experience.

Sales is, perhaps, the most important skill you can cultivate. Both in terms of functional strategy / competency, as well as the base (call it philosophical) skill of persuasion and rhetoric. Additionally, developing skills in public speaking, negotiation (watch some Chris Voss videos), and emotional intelligence would be very helpful now. Financial knowledge and all the other “hard skill” skills are simple to learn and someone else will pay for it (employer etc) - but nobody will develop your soft skills and that’s what’ll accelerate your growth and progression above any other (additional) learning you can do right now outside what you’re learning by actually being employed and engaged in the work. Good luck and go do something that makes the world a little bit better!

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I would look at the online Harvard Business school tracks. Phenomenal program for Leadership

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Interesting! I will check it out. I wonder if there are programs that help with job placements as well.

Could you expand on the financial acumen topics one should look to cultivate? I’m senior in my current role however I’ve identified this as a knowledge gap as well, just don’t know what is and isn’t important to look into. Thank you in advance!

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