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Finding the Right CEO

Originally published in the January–February 2022 issue of Harvard Business Review.

The best steppingstone to the corner office is changing. The vast majority of new CEOs still come from within: For example, in 2020, 77% of new S&P 500 CEOs were internal promotions. But whereas 20 years ago chief operating officers were the overwhelming favorites, accounting for 76% of such appointments, they have lost significant ground and look to be overtaken soon by another group of aspirants: division heads. According to a new study, however, neither cohort is the most likely to deliver outstanding results. “Leapfrog CEOs” — leaders appointed from one level below C-suite officers or division heads, with titles such as senior vice president and general manager — have the best odds of steering their firms into the top quartile of performers.

This article, published in the January–February 2022 issue of Harvard Business Review, highlights Spencer Stuart research looking at where CEO successors come from, the relative performance of CEOs from different backgrounds and how CEO aspirants can better prepare to outperform as CEO.

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