There are many ways to end up in the C-suite. Probably the most common, and the most reliable, is to join a company where you start in a technical role as say, an accountant, lawyer, or analyst etc. and work your way up.
So you just work hard, and wait for your promotions.
In larger organizations, it can take many years, as you may have five or six layers to traverse. And at each new layer, you’re in competition for the next spot above you with a bunch of other smart, ambitious people from both inside and outside your organization. So it can take a long time.
I have a rule of thumb that I want to share with you. If you want to go up a level, or if you want to change the job family you’re in, it’s most likely that you’ll be able to do that in the same organization you’re in now.
Landing a role in another company, though, where you have no proof of performance at that level is a much longer putt. By the same token, a fresh start in a new company can be a fast track to better pay and conditions.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but this is generally the way it works.
Now, I would never hold up my own career path up as something you should try to emulate, but there are some interesting learnings to take from it. Some of my best career moves were effectively horizontal, but they enabled me to gain the experience that I needed in order to progress.
Let me explain: one of the most critical functions of the Board is to appoint the CEO. They generally want to see one of two things. Either:
You’re already an executive in that company (e.g. the CFO), and you’ve operated successfully, demonstrating that you understand the breadth of the business and how it makes its money.
Either that, or:
You’re not currently in the company, but you’ve demonstrated that you can run a business, usually in more than one context.
I had a big gap in my CV. Given most of my career had been in staff or functional roles, I hadn’t demonstrated that I could actually run a business, a profit and loss statement (P&L).
I was offered a role as Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at the ASX Top 30 listed company I was working for. This was a line role with P&L accountability, and it was effectively a sideways move from where I was.
I was able to demonstrate in a few short years that I was up to the job. I could drive commercial returns. I could work across the breadth of accountabilities that this level of seniority demanded. I could win customers. I could work productively with other teams.
This was my springboard to the CEO office.
But, if I hadn’t already been working in that organization, if the people above me hadn’t had three years to assess my performance, and see how I did things, I never would’ve been assigned to that Senior Vice President role.
And without that role on my CV, with a demonstrated track record of success, it’s unlikely that I would’ve been considered for the CEO role at CS Energy, even though it was a smaller company.