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So You Want to Be a CEO?

Forty percent of CEOs today don’t stay with the same company for 18 months, and the average lifecycle for a CEO is about 18 quarters. Despite these statistics, I meet many people who want to be a CEO. But I don’t meet many who really understand what it takes to reach that goal. To be an effective CEO—much less a stellar one—you need to make thousands and thousands of decisions, most of the time very quickly. You need to find out who has the best information and work with them to make the best decisions at the exact moments when those decisions can make a difference to your entire enterprise. Those sources can be customers, employees, suppliers, and everyone else that makes up your business ecosystem.

So the #1 piece of advice I always give to people who want to be CEOs is this: Don’t rush. Take your time. Learn as much as you can about every function of your business. Take on as many different jobs as you can. The more you know about every aspect of your business, the easier it will be for you to make good choices. And if you do make it to that corner office, realize that nobody—not your customers, your employees, or your investors—will tolerate failure. People have very little patience right now with mistakes or miscalculations. And if the job gets on top of you before you get on top of it, you really can’t recover.

I have two more pieces of advice. First, try to wean yourself off the all-too-prevalent addiction to the quarter—to short-term performance. Of course, short-term performance is important, both as fuel for long-term success and as a bellwether for a company’s ability to achieve its vision. But CEOs—the people who are best equipped to take the long view—need to take into consideration that they’re also tasked with building a business for generational performance.

Second, make sure you’re not surrounded by “yes” people who are afraid to be skeptical or to ask questions. Many CEOs receive bad advice about building a team—they’re told not to bring someone onto their team who can replace them, because if they do, they might get replaced. In reality, the best practice is the complete opposite. If you surround yourself with the best people, who can give you the data you need to create the right strategy for your business—and help you implement that strategy—you’ve got a much better chance of winning.

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