Starting from Scratch: The Road to the C-Suite Isn’t Definitive - Executive Origin Stories - Cowen Partners

      Starting from Scratch: The Road to the C-Suite Isn’t Definitive

      Despite what you might think, most executives don’t follow the same path to leadership in their organizations. There is no specific school or educational program designed exclusively for C-level positions. Executives often have a breadth of experience that may not directly relate to directing a large-scale corporation or other similar enterprises.

      People interested in rising through the ranks of their organization look to executives like they would a celebrity, wanting to know their history so they can mimic it or achieve a similar level of responsibility. Every executive has a unique story that led them to their leadership role.

      An executive’s career path is often challenging and may come with setbacks and hardships. Few executives sail to the top of an organization without challenges; in fact, it’s fair to say that a path free from hiccups might not properly prepare an executive for what lies ahead. 

      Life’s varied experiences and challenges conspire to make an executive who they are in the present, providing them with valuable lessons they can draw on when making important decisions as a leader. 

      However, there are some universal traits most executives exhibit that future leaders can learn from.

      Drive to Succeed

      Executives are ambitious people. You probably won’t find them spending their days at the beach or on the couch watching TV. They possess a spark that drives them toward higher achievement and will work very hard to accomplish their goals.

      Sometimes, an executive’s ambition comes from a challenging upbringing. For instance, you may learn that they grew up in a low-income household or had to work through high school and college. Future leaders often see difficulties as simple obstacles they must surmount. They don’t dwell on their problems but find a way to overcome them.

      In other cases, the executive’s upbringing was strict, and others expected them to achieve from a young age. People with a strong work ethic often carry that characteristic throughout life. They apply it in everything they do, whether they’re volunteering at their local soup kitchen or building a startup company.

      Desire to Learn New Skills

      The quintessential executive is always learning. They stay aware of trends and cutting-edge techniques even if they don’t apply to the work they’re currently doing. 

      Future executives often enroll in courses and classes that teach them new skills that may benefit them in their upcoming careers. 

      If they’re not in a class, they engage themselves through self-learning activities. Many times, they’ll read magazines and journals that are relevant to their career goals. For instance, an individual with an eye for finance might pour over the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal. 

      Similarly, someone who plans to start their own business will read books, listen to podcasts, and seek advice from other successful company founders. They’re eager to learn and don’t mind putting in the time and effort to do so.


      Successful executives aren’t self-contained. They don’t sit at home or in the office, rarely communicating with others. Instead, they get out and attend events where others with a similar mindset will be. 

      You’ll find future leaders on the golf course, hitting the links with other successful people in their industry or profession. Golf attracts people of all shapes and sizes since it’s a reasonably intuitive sport. Games typically last several hours, making them an excellent option for business professionals who want to get to know their peers.

      Future leaders prioritize events that relate to their organization or profession. For instance, they may attend conferences geared toward their industry sector. Conferences are a great way to meet like-minded people in a comfortable environment.

      Successful executives form close business relationships with people from varying backgrounds. They’ll know whom to call when they need guidance on a specific matter or simply want to toss a few ideas around.

      Willingness to Learn from Failure

      The path to success isn’t easy. Executives often overcome numerous hurdles throughout their personal and business lives. 

      Executives see failures as learning experiences. They examine each failure to learn what went wrong so they don’t make a similar mistake in the future. They don’t take their mistakes to heart but look past them and move forward.

      Executives also seek to learn from others’ mistakes. They pay attention to advice from their peers and dive into the details to fully understand what went wrong. They know that someone else’s error could just as easily have been theirs and aim to avoid similar blunders.

      Strong Communication Skills

      Few executives can inspire those around them without robust communication skills. If they aren’t born public speakers, they’ll take the time to develop the skills they need to communicate effectively with their team members and employees. 

      Public speaking, group communication, and one-on-one conversations are all things that an executive should be comfortable handling. An executive who conveys their expectations and objectives clearly won’t have trouble motivating others around them to work toward their goals. 

      That doesn’t mean an executive must be naturally extroverted. Many executives are the opposite; they’re introverted and prefer spending time alone or with close loved ones. However, they know when to emerge from their office and speak with their team. They don’t shy away from meaningful discussions that impact their business.

      Executives Have Their Own One-of-a-Kind Journey

      While executives often have a few shared traits, like a voracious appetite for learning and lofty ambitions, their journeys aren’t singular. You’ll find executives with a wide array of backgrounds. Some started by practicing law; others are former military veterans or engineers. 

      An executive’s path allows them to accumulate skills and experience that make them influential leaders. Often, their experience drives them to start their own business or take on increasing roles of responsibility in the companies they work for. 

      In our Executive Origin Series, we aim to showcase the personal journeys of effective leaders in various industries and positions. We hope they inspire others to achieve the same level of future greatness in their careers. 

      Executive Origin Stories

      Cowen Partners Executive Origin Series

      Have you ever wondered how a company’s leadership team attained their positions? What journey they took to get where they are?

      The Executive Origin Series by Cowen Partners Executive Search, a global executive search firm, shares the personal journeys of purpose-driven executives with emerging leaders and peers who share similar aspirations. Through this series, Cowen Partners hopes to share executive stories that inspire you to shape your own leadership trajectory, generating a substantial influence in your organization and the community.

      Based on the notion that executive learning and development must undergo a transformative shift, Cowen Partners strongly advocates for purpose-driven leadership and fostering diverse future leaders as the guiding principles that should be embedded in all aspects of our work. Cowen Partners is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, proactively identifying and recruiting DEI talent.

      Agents of Change

      Within this series, you will notice that profiled executives are putting an emphasis on change management, investing in human capital, and diversity equity and inclusion. This comes just in time to meet new and complex global organizational needs.

      Organizations are seeking executives with a history of strong leadership throughout turbulent economic times. Executives are getting older, and we will likely see a lot of turnover over the coming years. Approximately 81% of today’s CEOs of organizations in the S&P 500 are between 50 and 65 years of age. As they step aside to let new leaders take over their organizations, we will witness fresh ideas but also a potential loss of business knowledge.

      While organizations will expect their new leaders to take the reins quickly, smart leaders will be asking profound questions about brand identity, current and future position in the marketplace, and the ability to attract and retain the most talented people. What makes employees believe in a product, service, or mission?

      Finally, organizations must continue to pay strict attention to human resource concerns like DE&I and workplace flexibility. Despite the current economic turbulence, employees still have their pick of available jobs. They want to work for companies that value diversity and embed it in their culture.

      Focusing on these critical trends can ensure executives successfully navigate complex economic, social, and global issues. Our profiled executives are setting an example for future leaders on how to best meet these ever changing demands head on.

      Executive Origin Stories

      Get in Touch.

      Fill out the email request form to learn more about our approach.

        [honeypot website]