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The Top Job

What makes a CEO? Is there a pattern in terms of age, background, education, and career path? Where are future …

What makes a CEO? Is there a pattern in terms of age, background, education, and career path? Where are future CEOs coming from? In our fifth annual “Route to the Top” feature, p. 48, we depart from our usual approach of offering a single exhaustive analysis and present six snapshot looks at this mammal we call the chief executive. We asked executive recruiter Spencer Stuart to examine not just the “who,” but the “how” and “why” different people become company leaders. (Most of the research concerns publicly traded company leaders, but we reckon the patterns for CEOs of privately held firms are close.)

Tom Neff and Dayton Ogden begin with a statistical snapshot that shows—to no one’s great surprise—that CEOs are younger, and their tenure both on the job and with their current companies is growing shorter. They also identify trends that don’t show up in the statistics, which they nonetheless see in their work. This year, Denis Lyons adds a new twist to our feature. It’s become trite to speak of a global CEO, but Lyon’s research shows that the rise of the non-indigenous born business leader—the immigrant CEO—is not confined to the U.S. There are at least 15 top British business leaders who are not British-born. These are not just transplanted North Americans and Australians either. Who would have imagined that a number of Italian firms would be led by non-Italians? And who could have predicted the number of Italians, Brits, and Belgians running French companies? Lyons shows that foreign-born CEOs, regardless of country, share many characteristics, and that the experience of living and working in two or more countries is quickly becoming a touchstone on the path of leadership.

Our cover profile of Compaq’s Michael Capellas also ties in to our Route to the Top feature. Some say it was bound to happen: More CEOs are coming from the ranks of the CIOs. The rise of IT over the last 10 years brought with it the evolution of MIS managers to IT VPs to CIOs and CKOs (chief knowledge officers), whose power and importance extend deep into the enterprise. Where once IT was something apart, today every company is an infotech enterprise. Capellas isn’t the first CIO to ascend into the ranks of top management. For example, Microsoft President Bob Herbold was CIO at Procter & Gamble. Lance Boxer, group president of Lucent Technologies’ software group, had been CIO of MCI. But Capellas, whose background is far broader than IT management, is the first such figure to run a Fortune 200 company.

The notion that CIOs are people with technical brilliance but with no great business imagination or ambition to run an integrated enterprise will have to be discarded. This begs the question of what will happen to other would-be CIO cum CEOs—and how much Capellas’ succeeds in transforming Compaq will factor into the answer? But, hey, no pressure.

Fittingly, we need your input on a related route to the top concern—the nomination of the 2000 Chief Executive of the Year. Ballots were packaged with this issue. We encourage you to name a current CEO who deserves to be considered as Chief Executive of the Year. This should be someone who has been at the job for a minimum of five years and who has excelled in any number of ways. Your views are important to us because the selection process is peer-driven. (If you’ve lost the ballot, just fax us at 212-6878456, or e-mail your choice along with a brief reason why your candidate deserves the honor to nominations@chiefexecutive.net) We at Chief Executive do not determine whom the selection committee should consider. It’s all up to you.

About J.P. Donlon

J.P. Donlon
J.P. Donlon is Editor Emeritus of Chief Executive magazine.