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  • MAP Asia Pacific Ltd

Ask an Expert: How Do I Become a CEO?

Dear Ascend,

I am a 25-year-old woman just starting out in veterinary marketing. During my first three years in the workforce, I worked as a certified technician in veterinary medicine, but recently, I decided I wanted more out of my career. While working, I went back to school to complete my bachelor’s degree in business. During this time, I also approached my boss and asked if she could help me gain more experience on the business side of the industry.

After assisting my hospital with our marketing efforts for about a year, and securing my degree, I was offered a marketing development position. In my new role, I will be working with several hospitals located in the western U.S. on their marketing execution plans.

I’ve worked really hard to get here, but this is also going to be a big job transition. I will be meeting with more senior and executive-level employees in this role. I want to use this position as a starting point to grow and advance into an executive / C-suite position one day. I am seeking any advice that you may have on ways to make myself stand out among the competition in this lower-level position.

Thanks for your guidance,

Future CEO

We asked Sally Blount, a Fortune 500 board member and former dean at the Kellogg School of Management, and Paul Leinwand, principal at PwC Strategy and author, to respond.

Dear Future CEO,

You are thinking through a topic we hear about a lot. In fact, in our work and teaching, we often meet young professionals and MBA students who tell us “I want to be a CEO.” The exact source of their ambition may not always be clear, but their “I want to lead” mindset certainly is.

When we dig deeper, we find that what many of these aspirants want most is to have impact. They hunger to do work that makes a genuine, tangible difference in the world. Many worry that most jobs (and the ones they may be in today) won’t allow them to do so. They see business, then, as a vehicle for impact, and the CEO or some other executive role, as a destination for creating real change.

Two Important Questions

If this longing for impact sounds familiar to you, and if you’re someone who aspires to lead an organization in order to do that, let’s talk about what it takes. Specifically, what does it take to lead thousands of employees and be outstanding at it?

First, do you have the motivation and focus required for a journey that will likely take decades?

In 2020, the average age of new CEOs and CFOs at the U.S.’s biggest companies was 54 and 48 years old, respectively. Those numbers have increased by five years over the last decade, according to The Wall Street Journal. As the global business environment grows more complex, boards are looking to leaders with more, not less, experience under their belts. Regardless of how long it may take you, motivation and focus will be required to get you through a wide set of challenges, and ultimately, the knowledge that some key factors will be out of your control.

Second, do you have the potential to become a high-impact leader? Do you have the skills that will both distinguish you among your peers and enable you to lead at scale?

Throughout our careers, we’ve had the opportunity to observe many C-suite leaders at work. Drawing from our combined experiences, we’ve found ourselves asking: Who do we know who has outsized impact, and how do they lead? That led us to identify three breakthrough pathways that we would argue the most successful C-suite residents tend to leverage.



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