0 minutes read

Which Professions Provide the Best CEOs

Editorial Team
26/05/2020 3:36 PM

There has been raging debate on
which professions provide the best CEOs. I think to some extent this argument
is based on a misunderstanding of what the role of the CEO should be.  The CEO as the head of the organisation is a
leader who must drive the organisation towards its vision and mission.
Therefore as executives move to the top of the organisation, their technical expertise
becomes less and less a factor in determining success. However, what is
required is for the person going to a CEO role to have the ability to
understand the industry quickly even if they are coming from a completely
different industry.

Historically people from the
finance background have been elevated to the CEO role. The reason for this trend
in my view is not necessarily competency in all cases. If you look at it the
finance role is the only role, according to most corporate governance statutes
that must be in the board as a board member beside that of a CEO. Naturally,
this has given finance people a head start in terms of understanding the
business and leading the organisation. They have an opportunity to learn from
the board members as they create strategies for the business. All the other
roles attend Board meetings by invitation. 

Slowly we are seeing a change in
trend, as more and more non-finance people are being appointed to CEO. With
time as more data is gathered on the performance of non-finance CEOs,
comparisons can be objectively be made and inform policy direction going forward.

While my view above is, yet to be tested extensively there is already evidence on what works when it comes to
selecting CEOs.  In an article in the
Harvard Business Review by Art Markman{ Can You Be a Great Leader Without
Technical Expertise?} he pointed out
that new evidence shows that great leaders have technical domain knowledge for
the sectors they are leading.  He argues
that “
example, hospitals managed by doctors perform better than those managed by people with
other backgrounds. And there are many examples of people who ran one company
effectively and had trouble transferring their skills to the new organization.”

he  says technical sector-specific
competencies are key, he also acknowledges 
there are other board competencies required for a person to succeed at
that level. According to him “ These
factors include: The ability to motivate self and others, effective oral and
written communication, critical thinking skills, problem solving ability, and
skills at working with teams and delegating tasks.”

For company Boards, I would say look at trends and do not
over-rely on people who have a finance background and leaving out other
talented individuals. Look across all professions and hire the CEO on the basis
that they have leadership capability and not necessarily technical domain
knowledge. Industry-specific knowledge can be easily acquired if you hire the
person with the right leadership qualities. You want to hire CEOs who will
prioritise culture and performance. CEOs who know that sustainable business
performance is only possible if the culture is aligned with the vision and
mission of the organisation. Many CEOs have failed because they have failed to
grasp the important role culture plays in the success of  the organisation. Look the most successful
organisations and  you will notice that,
they have their organisational culture as the anchor point.

The most successful CEOs in my view are likely to be those
who have the capacity to open outside doors for the business. Their role is to
create opportunities for the business by engaging key external stakeholders.
These opportunities from outside are handed level 2 executives to exploit. It
is very likely that CEOs who have an internal focus may end up failing. The
reason for the failure is that they are likely to miss important opportunities
outside of the organisation. There is also a high likelihood that internally
focused CEOs end up creating tension within the team, as they compete for
internal attention with their subordinates.  They end up doubling in politics within the

The board must be able to assist the CEO to refocus. This is
easy if the board is not too operational. Unfortunately, in situations where
the Board is also too operational and internally focused, there is likely to be
tension between the CEO and the Board. These are issues that can be resolved
easily if both the CEO and the Board were appointed on merit.

 Memory Nguwi is an Occupational
Psychologist, Data Scientist, Speaker, & Managing Consultant- Industrial
Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting
firm. https://www.linkedin.com/in/memorynguwi/ Phone +263 4
481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number +263 77 2356 361 or email: mnguwi@ipcconsultants.com  or visit
our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Editorial Team

This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC

Latest Posts

Our Services
Can Help You


170 Arcturus Road, Greendale, Harare, Zimbabwe

Sign Up For Newsletter

Receive articles and jobs straight to your inbox