The CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is a corporation’s top person - its leader. The reality of the CEO role varies dramatically between companies. Some CEOs are incredibly hands-on, involving themselves in everything from product development to marketing, hiring, and more. While others weigh-in only on the most critical decisions. A CEO’s level of involvement depends both on the size of the organization as well as the CEO’s management style. And note that the relationship between these factors isn’t always what you’d expect. There are plenty of large-corporation CEOs, for instance, who are incredibly hands-on, just as certain small ones are the opposite.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of CEOs: Founders, and non-founders.
Founder-CEOs are those entrepreneurs who start companies and then, naturally, end up assuming the role of CEO.
Non-founder CEOs can enter companies at any stage, although typically it’s later.
There are plenty of notable longer-term founder-CEO-led companies: Amazon and Meta, to name a few. But the most successful corporations, the ones that last, all eventually end up with a non-founder in top position. This, for you, may be an encouraging thought since it means that yes, you could become the CEO of your favorite company.
For those interested in the business world’s top role, here’s what you need to know about how to be a CEO.
What is a CEO?
A CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is the highest-ranking executive in a company or organization. The CEO is responsible for the overall strategy and direction of the organization, and has ultimate decision-making authority. The CEO is also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the company, and for overseeing the work of other executives and departments within the organization. The CEO reports to the board of directors, which is responsible for overseeing the CEO and the overall performance of the company. In smaller organizations, the CEO may also be responsible for specific areas of the business, such as sales, marketing, or finance.
What does a CEO do?
As the highest-ranking executive in a company or organization, the CEO is responsible for setting the overall strategy and direction of the organization. This includes developing long-term plans, setting goals and objectives, and making decisions about the allocation of resources. The CEO is also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the company, including overseeing the work of other executives and departments, and making sure that the organization is running smoothly and efficiently.
On a day-to-day basis, the CEO may be involved in a variety of tasks and activities. These may include:
- Meeting with senior executives and department heads to discuss and review the progress of various projects and initiatives
- Reviewing and approving budgets and financial reports
- Reviewing and approving business plans and proposals
- Making decisions about the direction and focus of the organization
- Communicating with shareholders, investors, and other stakeholders
- Representing the company at industry events and conferences
- Making public appearances or giving interviews on behalf of the organization
- The specific responsibilities of a CEO will depend on the size and nature of the organization, as well as the specific skills and expertise of the individual in the role.
How to become a CEO
There is no one specific path to becoming a CEO, and the route to this role can vary widely depending on an individual's background, education, and experience. That being said, there are some common steps that many people take in order to become a CEO:
- Gain experience in your field: CEO positions are typically held by individuals who have a significant amount of experience in their industry or sector. This may include working in various roles within a company or organization, or gaining experience in different companies or industries.
- Get an education: Many CEOs hold advanced degrees, such as a MBA or PhD, which can help to demonstrate expertise and leadership skills. While an advanced degree is not necessarily required to become a CEO, it can be helpful in building the knowledge and skills needed for the role.
- Develop leadership skills: Being a CEO requires strong leadership skills, including the ability to inspire and motivate others, make difficult decisions, and communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders. Gaining experience in leadership roles, such as managing teams or projects, can help to build these skills.
- Network and build relationships: Building relationships with industry professionals and leaders can be helpful in advancing your career and positioning yourself for a CEO role. This may include joining professional organizations, attending industry events and conferences, and building a strong network of contacts.
- Seek out opportunities: Keep an eye out for opportunities to take on more responsibility or move into leadership roles within your organization or industry. This may include applying for promotions, seeking out new challenges, and being open to new opportunities as they arise.
It's also important to note that becoming a CEO can take time, and may require a combination of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. It can also be helpful to seek out mentors or advisors who can provide guidance and support as you work towards this goal.
Some of the most important CEO-skills include:
- Strategic thinking: A CEO must be able to think strategically about the long-term direction of the organization and develop plans and goals to achieve it.
- Leadership: As the leader of the organization, a CEO must be able to inspire and motivate others, and effectively manage and lead teams.
- Communication: A CEO must be able to communicate effectively with a wide range of stakeholders, including employees, board members, investors, customers, and the media.
- Decision-making: A CEO must be able to make difficult decisions, often under pressure and with incomplete information.
- Adaptability: A CEO must be able to adapt to changing circumstances and pivot as needed to meet the changing needs of the organization.
- Financial acumen: A CEO must have a strong understanding of financial concepts and be able to effectively manage the financial resources of the organization.
- Problem-solving: A CEO must be able to identify and solve problems as they arise in order to keep the organization running smoothly.
- Relationship-building: A CEO must be able to build and maintain strong relationships with a wide range of stakeholders, including employees, board members, investors, and customers.
How old are most CEOs?
The age of CEOs in the U.S. and internationally varies widely. Some CEOs are relatively young, having risen through the ranks of a company or organization and taking on the role at a relatively early age. Others may have spent many years working in different companies or industries before becoming a CEO later in their career. Some CEOs are in their 30s or 40s, while others are in their 50s, 60s, or even older. There are no hard and fast rules about the age at which someone becomes a CEO, and the age of a CEO is not necessarily indicative of their ability to lead and manage an organization.
What do CEOs make?
As you’d expect, CEOs can earn a significant salary, depending on the size and success of the organization they lead. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for CEO's was $184,460 as of May 2020. However, this number can easily go into the millions depending on the size of the organization, the industry in which it operates, and the specific skills and experience of the CEO. Some CEOs earn much more than the median wage, often earning millions of dollars per year in salary, bonuses, and other forms of compensation.
It's important to note that the amount of money a CEO earns is not necessarily indicative of their value or effectiveness as a leader. The role of a CEO is complex and multifaceted, and the compensation for the role should reflect the significant responsibilities and challenges that come with it.
There have been many famous CEOs throughout history, and the list of notable figures in this role is constantly evolving as new leaders emerge. Some examples of well-known CEOs from various industries and countries include:
- Tim Cook: CEO of Apple Inc.
- Marissa Mayer: Former CEO of Yahoo
- Mark Zuckerberg: CEO of Facebook
- Sundar Pichai: CEO of Google and Alphabet Inc.
- Jeff Bezos: Founder and former CEO of Amazon
- Satya Nadella: CEO of Microsoft
- Howard Schultz: Former CEO of Starbucks
- Elon Musk: CEO of SpaceX and Tesla
- Jack Ma: Founder and former CEO of Alibaba Group
- Warren Buffett: CEO of Berkshire Hathaway
Best resources for aspiring CEOs
There are many resources available for aspiring CEOs that can help them to develop the skills and knowledge needed for this role. Some options include:
- Professional development courses and programs: Many universities and professional organizations offer courses and programs specifically designed for aspiring CEOs and other leaders. These may include topics such as strategic planning, financial management, leadership development, and more.
- Books and articles: There are many books and articles written by successful CEOs and leadership experts that can provide valuable insights and guidance for aspiring leaders. Some notable examples include "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries, "Start with Why" by Simon Sinek, and "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey.
- Executive coaching and mentorship: Working with an experienced executive coach or mentor can be a valuable way to gain insights and guidance as you work towards a CEO role. These individuals can help you to develop your skills, set goals, and navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with leadership roles.
- Professional organizations and networking events: Joining a professional organization or attending networking events can be a great way to meet and learn from other successful CEOs and leaders. Many organizations offer events and resources specifically designed for aspiring leaders.
- Online resources: There are many online resources available for aspiring CEOs, including blogs, podcasts, and webinars. These can provide valuable insights and guidance as you work towards a leadership role.
How to be a CEO | Conclusion
There you have it, everything you need to know about how to be a CEO. Whether you’re just entering the job marketing or a long-time executive, it’s always key to have goals, to believe in yourself, and to set positive intentions. If being the CEO of a company and leading others to success and prosperity is what you want then, certainly, it’s achievable.
More Popl career guides
- How to be a Sales Director | Career guide
- How to be a Marketing Director | Career guide
- How to be a Creative Director | Career guide