In today’s competitive environment, the road to management — the C-suite — is often unclear. How do people get the jobs at the top? What skills and qualities do leaders have that set them apart from everyone else?
Identifying what it takes to get to the top of a company isn’t always straightforward. The necessary skills and talents vary according to industry, geographical region, and function. Capabilities that are essential now could change altogether in the future.
What is clear is that a C-suite role veers away from technical capabilities and toward a firm grasp of business fundamentals and leadership skills. Technical expertise is quite different from leadership skills, and people with highly desirable hard technical skills don’t always make the best managers.
While starting a company will open the door to your own C-suite, sometimes people aren’t ready to take an entrepreneurial jump. Instead, they prefer to navigate the management ranks to obtain a leadership position in an existing organization.
In this guide, we’ll look at the C-suite’s various positions and what it takes to get them.
Information technology has evolved a long way since the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, an individual holding the top post in IT obtained it through their data analysis skills.
They had a comprehensive understanding of programming languages and computer networks. If they weren’t an IT professional, they had an accounting background with systems experience.
Times have changed, though, and the newest IT leaders possess a more robust background in business strategy.
Instead of leading technical teams on specific projects and answering complex systems questions brought by different departments, they’re responsible for managing high-level projects across divisions.
Techies seeking to break into the CIO role need a diverse skill set of analytics, systems analysis, and organizational design. They must know how to develop and oversee a platform that supports divisions across the company.
However, simple tech knowledge isn’t enough. They must also understand how the platform supports each department and the implications of a poorly performing system.
For decades, marketing and sales operated as separate channels.
Marketing handled pricing, brand management, and advertising strategies, while sales communicated directly with customers and retailers.
Each function had clearly defined responsibilities, and departmental lines remained distinct.
The advent of digital marketing has changed the roles of marketing and sales.
More often, both teams take on responsibilities that are interchangeable across departments.
Marketing teams must decide which advertising strategies can reach customers online, while salespeople must choose how to deliver online messaging to their customers.
Newer technologies like crowdsourcing and social media are increasingly changing marketing and sales roles.
Individuals seeking to take on top jobs in marketing and sales will need thorough expertise in digital marketing mediums to reach the customers they want to serve.
Before the early 2000s, CFOs needed significant experience in financial reporting.
They understood the ins and outs of the income statement and balance sheet and reported the numbers accurately. Experience across various financial departments, including finance, tax, and accounting, was necessary.
Most CFOs never truly stepped out of the numbers box; their skills were purely quantitative and steeped in processes and procedures.
Today’s CFOs must do much more than oversee the traditional financial reporting process. Many companies have an international presence; they have subsidiaries overseas they must interact with. Organizations seeking to grow their overseas presence must consider the risks and rewards of doing so.
On top of global concerns, CFOs play a more significant role in engaging with external stakeholders. They must keep up with new information technology, the capital markets, and the macro and microeconomy.
Future CFOs will need a robust global mindset and commercial understanding. They’ll need to be able to provide real-time analysis of operational performance and financial data.
Human resources has long been looked down upon as a purely administrative function.
Executives struggle to involve HR in critical business decisions. Instead, they notify HR when there’s a need for new talent and let the team handle posting job notices and obtaining a talent pool.
Tomorrow’s HR departments will be different. Forward-thinking companies already see the value that CHROs bring to the table. They’re expanding their responsibilities and involving them in higher-level critical decisions.
Individuals who step into the CHRO role will ideally have experience in different areas of the world.
They’ll be able to identify cultural differences and use people from different backgrounds. CHROs will also weigh in on financial modeling, taxation, and compensation topics.
The best CHROs will have a diverse background of skills encompassing legal, finance, and taxation. Their experience will allow them to play a part in crucial issues, especially when hiring teams abroad.
In prior decades, CEOs were primarily responsible for assembling the boards of their corporation.
The tables have turned, and now board members choose the CEO, which makes the CEO accountable to the board for their decisions.
There is much less focus on a CEO’s capability for technical skills.
Commonly, companies don’t choose CEOs because of their ability to crunch numbers and oversee metrics.
Instead, the CEO is the face of the organization. They develop the organization’s strategic vision and can motivate others to achieve it.
Tomorrow’s CEOs must possess the soft skills to communicate and collaborate well. They must be active listeners and include their executive team members in important decisions.
Ideally, the CEO must be highly resistant to stress. They can’t operate in a silo. They must be able to promote team decisions and take differing viewpoints into account.
The responsibilities and skills of today’s C-suite have changed from those of prior decades. There’s a greater emphasis on soft skills like collaboration and teamwork. Globalization also plays a role. As more companies expand their international footprint, an understanding of cultural issues will be paramount.
While technical skills remain vital, there’s a movement toward understanding the business fundamentals of each department rather than siloing into one area. Individuals who can navigate across various departments will find themselves better positioned for an executive role.
At Cowen Partners, our HR executive recruiters are exceptionally skilled at delivering in-demand candidates, no matter the need and across all industries. Backed by a proven executive recruiting process, we have been the partner of choice for startups, corporations, small businesses, non-profits, and more, meeting unique and critical recruitment needs across the entire C-suite, including CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CMOs, CIOs, CTOs, CHROs, VPs of sales, other VPs, directors, and several other leadership roles.
With our executive recruiters, you get senior partner-led searches, due diligence-run networking, meticulous candidate vetting, and so much more, all geared towards one goal — placing the very best talent as soon as possible, all while ensuring a seamless fit with your company culture, your big-picture objectives, and other factors. Plus, we have one of the highest candidate retention rates in the industry while consistently delivering world-class talent faster than the competition.
That’s how Cowen Partners has become a leading executive search firm nationwide, and it’s why our executive recruiters have a reputation for excellence and success.
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