The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking officer of a company, responsible for overseeing the entire organisation's operations, strategy, and performance. CEOs typically report to a board of directors and are accountable for the company's success or failure.
Human Resources (HR) is a critical function in organisations, responsible for managing the people who work for the company. HR professionals are responsible for hiring, training, compensating, managing employees and ensuring compliance with labour laws and regulations.
A career in HR can provide valuable skills and experiences transferable to a CEO role. HR leaders have a unique perspective on the organisation and can effectively drive organisational strategy and performance. While traditionally, the path to becoming a CEO has been through finance or operations; many companies are now looking for candidates with a strong HR background.
Building the Foundation
A degree in HR or a related field, such as business administration, can provide a strong foundation for a career in HR. Various degree programs are available, including bachelor's and master's degrees in HR, and some programs offer certifications in HR. Researching and choosing a program that aligns with career goals and provides valuable skills and experiences is essential.
Leadership and management skills are critical for HR professionals responsible for managing people and overseeing HR operations. Developing communication, decision-making, problem-solving, and team management skills are essential. These skills can be developed through on-the-job training, professional development courses, and leadership programs.
HR professionals should gain industry-specific knowledge and experience to understand their industry's unique challenges and opportunities. It is essential to stay up-to-date with trends and changes in labour laws, regulations, and best practices. This can be achieved through professional development courses, attending industry events, and networking with other HR professionals in the industry.
Climbing the HR Ladder
Entry-level HR positions
Entry-level HR positions typically involve administrative and support roles such as HR Assistant, HR Coordinator, or Recruiting Coordinator. In these roles, individuals learn the basics of HR, including recruiting, onboarding, and employee relations.
Mid-level HR positions
Mid-level HR positions may include HR Manager, HR Business Partner, or HR Generalist. These roles involve more responsibilities, including managing teams and projects, implementing HR policies, and developing HR strategies.
Senior-level HR positions
Senior-level HR positions include roles such as Chief HR Officer (CHRO), Vice President of HR, or Director of HR. In these roles, individuals have strategic responsibilities, such as overseeing HR operations, developing HR policies and strategies, and providing advice and guidance to senior leadership.
Strategic HR positions
Strategic HR positions involve leading initiatives aligning with the organisation's strategic goals. These roles may include HR Transformation Leader, Talent Management Leader, or HR Analytics Leader. In these roles, individuals can drive organisational change and create a competitive advantage for the company.
Key Competencies for HR Leaders
HR leaders must deeply understand the business and how HR can contribute to achieving the company's goals. They must be able to identify opportunities to improve the business through HR initiatives and balance HR needs with financial constraints.
HR leaders must be able to think strategically and develop HR strategies that align with the organisation's goals. They must anticipate future challenges and opportunities and develop HR policies and programs that position the organisation for success.
HR leaders must have strong interpersonal skills to build relationships with employees, senior leadership, and external partners. They must be able to listen and communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and influence stakeholders.
HR leaders must have excellent communication skills to articulate HR policies and programs, explain the impact of HR initiatives on the organisation, and engage employees in HR initiatives. They must communicate with clarity and confidence, both verbally and in writing.
HR leaders must have strong change management skills to lead and manage change initiatives effectively. They must be able to develop change management plans, engage stakeholders, and communicate the benefits of change to employees. They must also be able to mitigate resistance to change and ensure that change initiatives are implemented successfully.
Skills to Develop for CEO Aspirants
Financial management skills
CEOs are responsible for the financial health of the organisation. As such, CEO aspirants must develop financial management skills, including budgeting, forecasting, financial analysis, and risk management. They must also be able to read and interpret financial statements and understand the financial implications of business decisions.
Marketing and sales skills
CEOs must deeply understand marketing and sales to drive revenue growth for the organisation. CEO aspirants should develop marketing and sales skills, including market analysis, brand management, customer relationship management, and sales strategy development.
Operations management skills
CEOs must have a strong understanding of operations management to ensure that the organisation operates efficiently and effectively. CEO aspirants should develop operations management skills, including process improvement, project management, supply chain management, and quality management.
Business strategy skills
CEOs must have strong business strategy skills to set the organisation's direction and create a competitive advantage. CEO aspirants should develop business strategy skills, including industry analysis, strategic planning, scenario planning, and business model innovation. They should also be able to anticipate future trends and disruptors and develop strategies to respond to them.
The Path to CEO
HR leaders as potential CEO candidates
HR leaders are well-positioned to become CEOs as they deeply understand the organisation's people and culture, which are critical drivers of success. HR leaders also have a broad understanding of the organisation's functions and operations, which enables them to make informed business decisions.
The value of a diverse background
CEO aspirants should seek opportunities to develop skills and gain experience in different functions and industries. This can include taking on cross-functional projects, seeking out mentorship and sponsorship, and pursuing education and training outside of HR. CEOs often have diverse backgrounds that enable them to bring a unique perspective to the role.
Networking and building relationships
Networking and building relationships are critical for CEO aspirants. They should seek out opportunities to connect with senior leaders within the organisation and build relationships with external partners, such as vendors, customers, and industry associations. Networking can help CEO aspirants to gain exposure to different parts of the organisation, build their brand, and identify potential career opportunities.
Seizing opportunities and taking calculated risks
CEO aspirants must be willing to seize opportunities and take calculated risks to advance their careers. This may include taking on challenging assignments, volunteering for leadership roles outside of HR, and pursuing education and training that enables them to develop new skills. They should also be willing to take calculated risks, such as pursuing career opportunities in new industries or geographies, to help them broaden their experience and increase their visibility within the organisation.
Becoming a CEO is a challenging and rewarding career requiring diverse skills and experiences. A career in HR can be an excellent foundation for aspiring CEOs as it provides a deep understanding of the organisation's people and culture and a broad understanding of its functions and operations.
To become a CEO through HR, individuals should focus on developing leadership and management skills, acquiring industry-specific knowledge and experience, and building a strong network of relationships.
A career in HR can be an excellent pathway to becoming a CEO. HR leaders have a unique understanding of the organisation's people and culture, which is critical to success. They also have a broad understanding of the organisation's functions and operations, which enables them to make informed business decisions. HR leaders can transition into CEO positions and lead their organisations to success.
Suppose you are an HR professional with aspirations to become a CEO. In that case, it's important to remember that it is possible with dedication, hard work, and a commitment to continuous learning and development.
Pursuing education and training, developing leadership and management skills, and building a strong network of relationships are all essential steps to becoming a CEO. With perseverance and a willingness to take risks, you can achieve your goals and positively impact your organisation and the broader business community.