How to Become a CEO: The Definite Guide To Making It To C-Suite

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Becoming the CEO of your own company can be one of the most fulfilling and satisfying accomplishments in business, but it’s not as easy as it looks from the outside looking in. The real journey to CEO usually involves some type of climb up the corporate ladder, which means you’ll first need to get past your competition to make it to the big chair at the head of the boardroom table. The following is a guide to c-suite:

What is C-Suite?

C-Suite, which stands for Chief Executive Officer and senior VP, is the highest level available in the corporate hierarchy. It’s a title reserved for the most successful business executives in an organization.

Who’s Eligible for the C-Suite?

The most obvious definition of who is and isn’t eligible for c-suite is by the size of their company. In order to attain c-suite status, a company must have a minimum net worth of $50 million. As such, there are a number of large corporations that are not c-suites just yet, but will be by the time they reach an even larger net worth.

C-Suite Positions

  • Chief executive officer (CEO)
  • Chief marketing officer (CMO)
  • Chief operating officer (COO)
  • Chief security officer (CSO)
  • Chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Chief compliance officer (CCO)
  • Chief information officer (CIO)
  • Chief human resources manager (CHRM)
  • Chief green officer (CGO)

Key Areas of Responsibility for Most C-Suite Positions

1. Setting Organization-Wide Strategies

The chief executive officer often referred to as CEO or president, is responsible for making sure the overall strategy of an organization’s growth is meeting the company’s objectives. This position is typically what’s referred to as a c-suite position.

2. Appointing and Leading the Executive Team

C-suite executives must recruit, retain and lead the management team. They do this by saying who will be part of the executive team and what the roles are for each of those executive members. In addition to recruiting and hiring, c-suite executives make sure their managers have everything they need to do their jobs well.

3. Strategic Planning

The chief executive officer is responsible for outlining the strategic plan of an organization. They will figure out which strategies are the best way to achieve the company’s goals. Once that plan is in place, they will make sure everyone is aware and understands it.

4. Oversees the Management of Company Assets

C-suite executives oversee and manage the finances for an organization. Obviously, this is a very important job, and one of their biggest tasks is overseeing revenue streams to ensure company profitability.

5. Developing the Company Culture

Part of being a c-suite executive is developing the culture and values of an organization. They will figure out how their organization operates, what makes it tick and how to make it better.

6. Communicating with Stakeholders

C-suite executives must communicate with the stakeholders in their organization. This includes communication between departments or teams, but it also includes work with other corporations and outside stakeholders as well. They are responsible for making sure there is open communication channels so all questions get answered in a timely manner.

C-Suite - How to become a CEO

How to Become a CEO

1. Choose the Right Entry-Level Position

You can’t become a CEO if you don’t have a job at all, so the first step to becoming a c-suite executive is finding the right entry-level position and then doing that job very well. Depending on where you want to end up, your first job could be in the accounting department. Or it could be in sales. Or it could be in customer service. The point is that you can’t just start out and hope you’ll make it to the c-suite.

2. Get Recognized for the Right Reasons

Once you have a job that fits the bill, you need to start working on your reputation. Whether you’re an entry-level salesperson or an intern, you need to show potential employers that you can do the job. You are also probably going to want to include some hard work and a competitive edge in your resume. The most successful rising managers will also show that they can lead a team and make tough decisions with grace.

3. Develop Leadership Qualities

The best way to get ahead in business is to show that you are a leader, not just a follower. Leadership qualities can include competitiveness, humility, an ability to be a decision maker and a willingness to help others. The best way to develop these leadership qualities is to get out in the real world and start doing things that demand some type of leadership or decision making.

4. Cultivate Your Personal Brand

The good news is that you can’t buy your way into the c-suite. The bad news is that you can’t fake your way in either. As such, you will need to do everything you can to cultivate your own personal brand. This includes things like having a strong online presence, including a professional LinkedIn page and active social media accounts. You will also want to work on your public speaking skills and how you look when you go out in public.

5. Develop Your Leadership Skills

If there’s one thing that separates the best rising managers from the rest, it’s leadership skills. Becoming a leader at this level is not easy. It takes years of education, experience and hard work. However, you will have to do things like spend time in graduate school or working at the corner office. The good news is that there’s no better way to develop your leadership skills than by getting out there and doing things that require some type of leadership decision making.

6. Seek a Corporate Mentor

You can’t just walk up to the executive office and say, “I want a job like yours.” At this point you will need some type of senior executive to act as your mentor. Your mentor will help you get into the right position and develop the right skills in order to become a high level leader. The key thing is that your mentor will work with you and teach you the ins and outs of being a leader.

7. Pursue Higher Education in Business

There’s no better way to become a c-suite executive than to get yourself a professional education in business. For example, you could go to Stanford University and major in business or law. Or you could get yourself an MBA from Harvard University or an advanced master’s degree from a top school like Oxford. You could also undertake executive training programs like the Harvard Business School Executive Education program or Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Future of the C-Suite Executives

In the past, corporations have focused on the bottom line. However, these days executives must also focus on their reputation and how they are perceived among stakeholders. These types of c-suite executives are more likely to be women than men. Women feel that the corporate world is not only better for them personally but also better for the company and its employees in general. This has been a boon to the financial service business.

There is an emerging diversity trend in the c-suite. In the past, you would have been hard-pressed to find minorities or other minorities as part of the executive team. Today we are seeing more minorities and other minorities with roles in the c-suite. This is more than just political correctness, it makes good business sense because it makes your company more diverse and appealing to potential customers.

Paths to the C-Suite

1. Long Tenure

The most common path to the c-suite is simply to stick around and gain experience. That can mean taking a job in another department or working on a team with other leaders. It also means being willing to do more menial tasks at the beginning of your career so you can learn the ropes and figure out how your company operates. The more time you spend at the company, the more experience you will have.

2. Free Agency

Another path to the c-suite is to pursue a position in another company. Some people leave the company they work for and either get started at a startup or move into a new field such as investment banking. Others decide to start their own organization, especially if they are accustomed to making their own decisions and getting things done their way.

3. Business Ownership

Becoming a business owner can be a great way to build a solid foundation for the c-suite. Whether you’re starting your own company or buying an existing company, you will definitely have to work hard at it and embrace some challenging situations. However, if you have been successful in business and have built up a strong personal brand, then the c-suite job could be just around the corner.

4. Executive Coach

One of the fastest ways to get into the c-suite is to become an executive coach. For example, you can take up one or two executive coaching clients and turn your practice into a full time business. Not only will you be able to charge more than $1,000 per hour, but you will also continue to learn more about how the corporate world works.


The c-suite is a great place to be. There’s no doubt that you will have the opportunity to provide much needed leadership and make an impact on your company, its customers and, of course, its employees. If you want an executive job, then becoming a c-suite executive will be well worth the hard work and expense.