How to get to a C-suite position in the next five years

Paul Groarke our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 05 July 2022

If you’re reading this article, you already know that C-suite level jobs demand extensive experience and a track record of proven, tangible impact.

But what does the path to the C-suite look like? How do you get there?


In a world where women need to work, on average, 3.5 years longer than their male counterparts to climb the ranks, we consider what it really takes to reach the C-suite, including what jobs are more commonly viewed as valuable experience and the key characteristics that CEO’s search for.

What you need to do to get a C-suite role

From networking to finding a mentor, the route to the top is likely to be different based on experience, industry and even your geographical location. The most common (and effective) steps to prioritise include: 

1. Experience

Experience reigns supreme when it comes to getting a C-Suite role, as it should.  Positively pursuing promotions, making an impact in every role you get and positioning yourself as a thought leader will help. Taking on projects outside of your direct responsibility will help you stand out - and it also demonstrates your ability to use initiative and take the lead on different types of projects. 


Seeking feedback more regularly than an annual review will also allow you to identify areas that you may need to develop and improve, while getting a sponsor or mentor can help you obtain a more objective view of things and strategise your career journey. 


Carrying out your own research into becoming a board member will also help you identify exactly what your target CEOs are looking for. 

2. Work on your strengths

While we are often told to work on our weaknesses in order to improve, concentrating solely on a weakness can actually neglect your strengths.


In the journey to the C-suite, leaning into your strengths and perfecting them can often pay off more than spending time honing skills you won’t necessarily need. 


There’s a lot of research that supports this ‘positive psychology’ approach, revealing higher employee engagement, an increase in performance and lower attrition. Ultimately, strength development can help you become more confident, self-aware and productive, all of which are key attributes when it comes to C-suite roles. 

3. Focus on the commercials 

It’s essential that senior leaders are able to stay abreast of business and commercial demands, which push the organisation forward and fulfil its needs. 


Similarly, one of the most important factors of any executive position is the P&L responsibility. P&L responsibility involves overseeing the net income after expenses for a department or even the entire organisation. You’ll have direct influence on how company resources are allocated and often give final approval for new projects. On the flip side, you’ll also be required to find ways to cap expenditure and ensure all programmes are generating a positive ROI. 

4. Demonstrate creativity and innovation

In our ever changing era of digital transformation and AI acceleration, members of the C-suite need to be creative and innovative. These individuals at the top are responsible for pushing an organisation forward, which includes things like digital transformations and building diverse talent pipelines to ensure a strong future. In short, you need to to be a forward thinker. 

What jobs lead to the C-suite?

On average, a CEO will work for 24 years before they take over the C-suite, according to a 10-year study of 17,000 C-suite professionals.


Within those 24 years, it’s the skills, experience and examples of excellence that matter more than specific job titles. Members of the C-suite must be able to demonstrate leadership skills and a familiarity with business fundamentals. 


But if you’re looking to get a C-suite position within the next five years, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate a wide range of key skills.

What skills are needed for the C-suite?

A diverse range of skills is needed for the C-suite. Focussing on improving these skills will put you in a good position to attain a C-suite position within the next five years.

  • Strategic planning Leadership, with the ability to inspire others 
  • Vision and goal setting 
  • A high competency level in your specific area 
  • A firm grasp of business principles  
  • Efficient decision-making skills. In a nutshell, members of the C-suite must appreciate that sometimes the ‘wrong decision is better than no decision’ 
  • Excellent communication, with the ability to translate your thoughts both in writing and verbally 
  • Visionary creativity
  • Time-management skills for an effective work-life balance

What are the characteristics that CEOs look for in their board members?

At Hanover, we worked with C-suite clients of our own to ascertain what CEOs look for in their board members.


Our data revealed that the top three factors are skills, experience and personal/behavioural attributes, with 81%, 80% and 78% of CEOs targeting those specific areas respectively. 


Following those, at 63%, business and commercial demands are also an important factor. 

Typical C-suite positions

If you’re wondering how to get a C-suite role, you might also be curious as to how many C-suite positions actually exist. While smaller companies typically carry a maximum of four C-level executives, large corporations may have a C-suite with over a dozen roles.


Some of the most common C-suite positions include: 

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) 

At the very top, the CEO serves as the face of the business. In this position, you'll have the highest level of responsibility for all operations and major decisions. You’ll be responsible for communicating your strategic vision for the company to employees, customers and shareholders and be able to align everyone within the C-suite. 

Chief Operating Officer (COO) 

The COO is essentially the CEO’s right hand, taking responsibility for overseeing daily business operations and developing effective policies and procedures. In this role, you'll be responsible for implementing top executive strategies and, depending on the size of the C-suite, you may also oversee human resources, administration and payroll.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) 

Overseeing everything from cash flow and approving annual budgets to handling reporting and compliance, the CFO represents the ultimate achievement for finance professionals. Along with knowing how to track the profitability of an entire organisation, you’ll need a thorough understanding of risk assessment and a strong strategic vision.

Chief Information Officer or Chief Technology Officer (CIO/CTO) 

The CIO or CTO manages the organisation's information and technology infrastructure. In addition to managing an IT team, you'll take charge of researching and implementing technologies that enable the company to meet financial, marketing and product development goals.

Chief Data Officer (CDO)

While the CIO or CTO oversees technology, the CDO handles the data that the company collects and stores. Also known as the chief digital officer, this executive handles everything from data governance to digitisation policies. In this role, you may also take responsibility for data compliance.

Chief Security Officer (CSO)

Working closely with the CIO, CTO and CDO, the CSO oversees all system and data security. In this role, you'll have responsibility for developing and implementing protocols to keep data and equipment secure and aligned with the overall business objective. 

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

A CMO leads the organisation's promotional and advertising efforts. They are responsible for developing and managing the company's brands, overseeing market research and signing off on comprehensive marketing plans. 

Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)

The CCO is the top legal executive for the company. Overseeing both internal and external compliance, you’ll need a legal background for this role and extensive knowledge of compliance issues. 

Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)

While the COO may handle some aspects of human resources, the CHRO manages this area for larger organisations, taking on things like talent acquisition strategy, employee development and succession planning. 

Chief Experience Officer (CXO) 

A relatively new role, the CXO takes responsibility for interactions between the company and its internal and external customers, ensuring that all exchanges are positive, reflecting the overall values and mission. 

Chief Climate Officer

A chief climate officer is responsible for the climate change aspects of your organisation’s operations and mission. This role is fairly new, but it’s going to increase in importance. A CCO drives the climate change agenda, understands natural hazards and how they may impact company operations, and can shape organisational processes around your climate change values.

Let Hanover help you find a C-suite position

A Hanover, we pride ourselves on our specialist knowledge of each market we operate in. Our consultants keep a finger on the pulse of their respective markets, staying tuned in to all development, both minor and major. Why not explore our private banking executive search page, find out about how we source change and transformation talent or visit our expertise page to get a better understanding of what we do at Hanover?

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