It’s the ultimate goal for many people to climb the career ladder, and even reach the position of a CEO – the highest ranking executive officer of a company, and widely regarded as the leading visionary, setting the strategy and future direction of the business.

While the journey toward becoming a company’s CEO might not be for everyone or without challenges, many ambitious professionals still aspire, and want to know how to become a CEO. The inaugural Robert Half CEO Tracker, which profiled the background of the ASX 200-listed CEOs, has identified the commonalities they share and the steps ambitious professionals can take to set themselves on the right pathway to C-suite success.

For those aspiring to become a CEO, you will require a considerable amount of intelligence, focus, determination and flair for business. The career pyramid becomes very narrow at the top, meaning there is generally no shortage of suitable candidates with management skills interested in CEO vacancies. Chances of becoming CEO are greater in New South Wales and Victoria as 47% of ASX 200-listed CEOs are based in the Sydney metro area and 27% are based in the Melbourne metro area.

The DNA of the modern CEO continues to evolve as businesses operate in an increasingly competitive and changing environment. A strong standout feature of our analysis of the ASX 200-listed CEOs is their background in financial leadership and commercial acumen. Business leaders with strong financial capabilities are highly valued as they can easily interpret the financial ramifications of business decisions, adding a practical, financial perspective to a strategic one, emphasising the value of a strong understanding of the ‘numbers’ underpinning any organisation.

Chief executives typically have a strong educational background, with wide and varied experience in business, plus a proven track record of success. Unsurprisingly, having a tertiary education is a characteristic most CEOs share. More than eight in 10 (82%) have an undergraduate degree and more than half (54%) have – in addition to an undergraduate degree – postgraduate qualifications, with little over one in five (22%) having completed an MBA.

As such, CEOs are predominantly professionals who have acquired knowledge and sound judgement over time. Loyalty has its rewards as many have worked their way up to the top job through the company – in fact, 62% of ASX 200-listed CEOs were promoted internally, highlighting succession planning as a top priority for companies looking to replace senior leaders.

For those looking to hone their personal attributes, CEOs need to be clear communicators who are capable of both giving direction and accepting expert opinion. And as with all leadership positions, exceptional people skills are essential. They must be energetic, calm under pressure and ever-objective, while having the creative ideas needed to give the business an advantage over its competitors.

What are your chances of becoming CEO?

Naturally, it takes a very driven individual to become CEO – of any type of company. As organisations operate in increasingly uncertain times, they need to proactively identify the right talent for the top job.

Anyone with the requisite skills and experience has the opportunity to become a great chief executive, although it appears some candidates may have an advantage over others.

Becoming a CEO calls for confidence, leadership and strong communication skills while being able to motivate and inspire a broad range of employees. It is a position that needs a willingness to adopt fresh ideas, embrace new technologies and responsibly explore opportunities to achieve sustainable company growth.

Before you decide whether you want to pursue the pathway of a CEO, it’s important to establish your ability to thrive under pressure, juggle multiple demands, grasp new concepts quickly, and recognise potential opportunities that will contribute to a company’s bottom line. And beyond the qualities of a CEO, you need to ensure that you make your own case for selection as strong as possible.

With the advancement of automation, digital transformation, regulatory frameworks, and globalisation, companies need leaders who can not only meet business goals, but also successfully take advantage of these changes, whilst also possessing the strong financial acumen in order to keep their organisation afloat during continuously fluctuating economic conditions.

Ultimately, when it comes to knowing how to become a CEO – there is no singular pathway. Every professional striving to reach the pinnacle of their career needs to define their own journey to success.

Here are four key takeaways Australia’s corporate climbers should pay attention to if they want to make it to the top:

  • Know your way around a balance sheet: Half of all current ASX 200 CEOs have held prior roles in finance, financial services or accounting. If you’re not regularly reviewing your financial know-how, chances are you’re not going to be considered for the top job. While tech and digital skills are increasingly in demand, having a firm grasp on how to work your way around the financial aspects of a business is a key skill.
  • Get out of your comfort zone: It really does pay to be well travelled, with 59% of current ASX 200 CEOs having international work experience. Companies recognise the value of professionals with a broad understanding of cultural and geographical influences that can impact business operations. Don’t get tied down, take that overseas opportunity and learn from it!
  • Never stop learning: It may seem obvious, but successful CEOs are always looking to enhance their knowledge. More than 8 in 10 (82%) have an undergraduate degree, and more than half have additional postgraduate qualifications. If you want to run a forward-thinking business you’ve got to keep forwarding your learning.
  • Loyalty pays off:62% of current ASX 200 CEOs were promoted to the top internally. Businesses always look favourably on those who commit to consistently demonstrate their worth, with the average tenure before promotion being eight years. Just make sure the company you work for has the internal steps for you to move up.

Robert Half Executive Search specialises in the search for and placement of executive leadership talent across a broad spectrum of function areas and industry sectors.

You only have to take a look at the news in recent months to see that the topic of increasing women on boards continues to be the source of much debate across the globe. But are we too focused on this need to meet quotas and in doing so, are we missing the crucial point – that businesses actually do better when there are more women in leadership and management positions.

The reality is that far from being a numbers game, there are real business benefits to be gained from more balanced boards, the type that make a tangible difference to the bottom line. If we delve into this point further, we find there is not just an issue of recruiting women into the business in the first place; there is an even bigger challenge of retaining them once they are there. There are many well-documented practices that can support retention, but it can often be difficult to know which mix of approaches will work best.

So what can be done to maximise engagement, motivation, productivity and retention of women in the workplace? I believe that embracing the concept of ‘Leading as a Host’ is a key approach that can help achieve this outcome.

…it needs to be acknowledged that we don’t simply need more women, but more of what women bring to these environmentsFirstly, it needs to be acknowledged that we don’t simply need more women, but more of what women bring to these environments – nurturing, energy, intuition, gentle wisdom, listening and more. That’s not to say that men can’t do these as well, as some do them very well, but these things are all stereotypically, and very generally, more natural traits of women.

Male and female leadership may be considered to have generally different traits; male leadership may be seen as more ‘heroic’, with a focus on expertise, telling people what to do and having all the answers. Female leadership may be seen as more valuing of diversity, inclusion, understanding and building on strengths, stepping back, drawing out answers from others, nurturing talent, growth and not needing to have all the answers.

…getting women to WANT to progress in the first place is a much bigger issueThe big question that needs answering is ‘what prevails in our organisation?’ This may be very different to what the organisation is saying it wants, but what is really happening in practice? Consider key factors, such as what gets valued? What are the behaviours? How do we support both men and women to be themselves, bringing who they are into their work knowing it will be valued, respected and listened to? 
That said, getting women to WANT to progress in the first place is a much bigger issue than simply facilitating growth and development for those who already strive for it. It is about creating the conditions for a different way of leading.

Research has found that organisations that focus on engagement with leaders/managers and employees experience greater success than those who simply lead. It is clear therefore, that the art of hosting is becoming a crucial aspect of leadership and an important skill that needs to be learnt.

Featured Photo Credit: Pixabay

Photo©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy® 07768 401009Helen Bailey is the co-author of ‘Host: Six new roles of engagement for teams, organisations, communities, movements’. For more information visit