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Here's What It Will Take To Be A CEO In 2040

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The term "chief executive officer" has been around since about 1917, when the modern business management system was first established. 

new article from PwC's strategy+business traces the evolution of the role over the past century--and looks ahead to 2040. To save you some time, we've distilled the insights of authors Ken FavaroPer-Ola Karlsson and Gary L. Neilson into a few takeaways, but it's worth a full read. 

Let's start with the history of the role. Here's the breakdown of a typical CEO across three eras:

In 1914, the CEO was a monarch. Think Henry Ford and John Rockefeller. These guys "built vast fortunes and empires, largely because they had inordinate faith in the correctness of their visions as the inventors and builders of previously unknown industries," the authors say. 

In 1964, the CEO was a prime minister. Think Walt Disney and Ray Kroc of McDonald's. These execs "selected the leading executives, supervised the allocation of resources to achieve [their] goals, and monitored the performance of the organization to ensure that it continued to turn profits and expand its market," the authors say. 

In 2014, the CEO is an agile leader. These execs--more of whom are women--forgo five-year plans in favor of nimble, responsive evaluations. "Given the high correlation between employee engagement and productivity, CEOs must work hard to ensure that all employees, regardless of age, feel a sense of meaning, purpose, and engagement in their work," the authors say. 

Then we get to their 2040 predictions. They say that 25 years from now, some 30% of the world's 2,500 top global CEOs will be women--a marked increase over the 5% today.

His--or, increasingly, her--background will look like: 

  • Lots experience leading teams, whether organizing clubs at school or captaining sports teams 
  • Experience working with virtual teams 
  • Probably invented something, like an app 
  • Probably graduated from a progressive MBA program, like at Stanford or MIT
  • Probably had corporate gigs
  • Probably did some sort of socially conscious work early on, like Teach for America or the like 

The CEO of the future will have to be skilled at leading teams, entrepreneurial, and collaborative and will work for one of two types of companies: an integrator or a specialist, the authors say.

The integrator will be at the intersection of many companies, the way that Amazon serves as a hub for a whole universe of businesses. Following the Jeff Bezos model, this CEO will have to have an equally deep knowledge of supply chains and customers. Such a CEO will "need to spend a lot of time understanding how her company, its vendors, and its customers work in a holistic, deeply integrated system," the authors say. 

The specialist will run a company with a shorter lifespan--one that might be acquired or disrupted in just a few years. "The specialty CEO of 2040 will therefore need to be able to quickly divest a business when it's no longer viable and assemble a new one just as rapidly," the authors write. These people are already around in Silicon Valley: They're "serial CEOs."

The authors say that the CEO of 2040 is either in school right now or in the early stages of her career. If you want to become such a leader, they say, you need to start collecting a "diversity of experiences"--in and out of the classroom, country, and corporation.




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