“What is the best route to become CEO of a corporation?“
For people driven to reach the top it’s a common question. A classmate asked it of Ralph Biggadike, professor of Top Management Processes, which, when I was at Columbia Business School, was the class in highest demand. Ralph is an excellent teacher, as knowledgeable about top management as you’d expect one of the top professors at one of the top business schools to be.
I expect most of the students in the class were driven to reach the tops of their planned professions. As I recall, most of the class listened intently to the answer.
It may be worth thinking about yourself, even if you aren’t driven to reach the top. What functional role in a company leads most often to the top — marketing, finance, research and development, human resources, etc? Why? Does that reason motivate you to pursue that role?
I should also say he mentioned the topic had been researched, but he didn’t cite his research, so I’m only repeating his response. I can’t cite any sources.
He said the most common route to CEO was through sales.
Is the answer what you expected? Does it make sense? It surprised most of the class, including me. Later it made sense. Salespeople learn to understand, influence, and motivate people. They work with the product directly. They interact with buyers. They know the product line, what’s coming up, what isn’t selling, and so on. No other function is as close to the product, customer, and market.
A word about business schools. I remember sensing the class feeling disappointed at Ralph’s answer. At least at Columbia, many classes are required but no class in sales is. There was one sales course taught there, called Entrepreneurial Selling, although it covers consultative sales more. It was an excellent class taught by Eric Baron, an excellent professor. I learned far more in the class than I expected. In fact, it changed my views of sales from something like car dealers to more like consultants.
The class was full, but I don’t remember the culture of the school valuing sales. I found that funny, even though before taking the class I felt it too, because if there’s any function all companies have, it’s sales.
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