Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Why More CEOs Candidates Are Saying ‘No Thanks’ to the Top Position on the Corporate Ladder

So many bad things have been happening to CEOs, and they are so challenged in their jobs these days, that the picture is discouraging the next generation of company chiefs from ever wanting the once-coveted job in the corner office.

That’s the conclusion of a new survey by Korn Ferry of the ambitions of executives who haven’t reached the CEO level yet. A full 31% of those surveyed weren’t enthusiastic about becoming a CEO. While 68% answered “yes, definitely” they would like to rise to the ultimate level in business, 20% indicated they were “open, but ambivalent” to the possibility” while 11% said “no, thank you.”

“It says we’re in an era in which just getting to the top spot without regard to tradeoffs isn’t the M.O. anymore.”

This rebuke of ambition is historic, said one of Korn Ferry’s own top executives. “It says we’re in an era in which just getting to the top spot without regard to tradeoffs isn’t the M.O. anymore, said Jane Stevenson, vice chairman and leader of the global CEO succession practice for the Los Angeles-based executive-recruitment giant. She told CEO Briefing that this is a decided change “from 10 years ago and, for sure, from 20 years ago.”

But what has caused this change in attitudes? Stevenson said that “in the U.S. in particular, [executives] live in an era of plenty that causes people to think about the tradeoffs differently. There is a sense of, ‘How much is enough?’ and, ‘If I get that job, what is it that I’m giving up?’ They see that what they would be giving up, and the level of control and level of security that you’d have, is very different in top spots today. Thirty years ago, it was almost a tenured role.”

Would-be CEOs needn’t look far to see how the ground has shifted. A number of factors have made the jobs of business chiefs much more difficult than in memory—the Great Recession and slow economy since then, huge new regulatory pressures, technological disruptions, geopolitical unpredictability and activist shareholders among them—while their performance must be more transparent than ever thanks to the unceasing glare provided by digital technologies and increased pressure from constituents and the board.

“This result isn’t a reflection of CEOs complaining about their own jobs,” Stevenson said. “But it’s pretty obvious that they live in a meat grinder.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.