Want to Be CEO? This Is the Absolute Quickest Way to the Top

James Spader as Robert California, the man who took a shortcut to the Dunder Mifflin c-suite and became CEO on The Office
James Spader plays Robert California, the man who took a shortcut to the Dunder Mifflin C-suite and became CEO on The Office. | NBC

You want to make it to the C-suite? If there were an easy way to do it, we’d all be CEOs. But, as we’re all aware, it’s not easy. If you do manage to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, though, you’re probably set to earn a ton of money. Executives these days are earning ungodly amounts, but they’re also dealing with incredible levels of stress and responsibility. For those reasons, only a select few make it to the top.
Suppose you choose the executive’s path — what can you do to increase your odds of assuming the throne? LinkedIn Economist Guy Berger, along with colleagues Link Gan and Alan Fritzler, dug through mountains of data to find out. Using thousands of LinkedIn profiles, on which executives have mapped their path to the top, Berger and his team were able to come away with some interesting conclusions.
“We started by analyzing the career paths of about 459,000 LinkedIn members globally who worked at a Top 10 consultancy (per Vault Consulting Rankings) between 1990 and 2010 and became a VP, CXO, or partner at a company with at least 200 employees,” Berger writes. “About 64,000 members reached this milestone. Then we analyzed both observable and inferred traits from LinkedIn member profiles — like educational background, gender, work experience, and career transitions. At the end of the day, the probability of becoming an executive is merely 14 percent.”
Only 14%? That seems low — but there are things you can do to increase your odds. The chart below shows how, starting at that 14% baseline, your chances increase by making certain choices related to your career. Overall, you can boost your odds significantly:
Probability of making it to the c-suite
Probability of making it to the C-suite | LinkedIn

Berger and his colleagues make note of four specific things from their research that can help you reach the C-suite, which we’ll cover in the following pages.

Unfortunately, gender matters

Silhouettes of workers
Men have the advantage. | iStock.com

Indeed, we’re still living in an era in which men have an advantage over women in the business world. However, that’s something we’re improving on. As LinkedIn’s study says, “All of the factors have the same effect on both men’s and women’s careers. But a woman who has the same profile as a man needs an average of 3.5 more years of work experience to reach the same probability of becoming an executive.”

Location, location, location

Businessman standing in front of map drawn on blackboard
Cities offer more opportunities. | iStock.com/ismagilov

Where you live and work plays a big role as to whether you become an executive. Working in New York City, for example, is going to offer up more opportunities than working in, say, Denver or Minneapolis. But living in Denver or Minneapolis is going to improve your chances as opposed to Fargo or Tulsa.
“This could be in part due to the nature of the industries that are prevalent in these cities (for example, the financial services industry tends to be more hierarchical than the high-tech industry), as well as the higher concentration of company headquarters in those regions,” Berger writes.

Have a wide range of experience

businessman presenting at a meeting
Know your industry. | iStock.com

Knowing your business inside and out will greatly improve your odds of landing in the C-suite. As Berger and his colleagues discovered, “Working across job functions, like marketing or finance, provides the well-rounded understanding of business operations that are needed to become an executive. Each additional job function provides a boost that’s, on average, equal to three years of work experience.”
Switching industries, however, has a negative impact.

MBAs (and where you get one) are important

The intersection of Brattle and John F. Kennedy streets in Cambridge, near Harvard and MIT
Education is key. | Darren McCollester/Getty Images

It’s the final piece of the puzzle: the MBA. They’re expensive and time-consuming to earn. But the numbers indicate that they’re worth the investment — as long as you attend the right school. “Having an MBA from a top five program (per U.S. News and World Report) provides a net boost that’s equivalent to 13 years of work experience. In contrast, a non-top-ranked MBA provides a net boost of only five years,” Berger writes.
As far as other advanced degrees? They help, but not as much as an MBA. So, if you’re serious about making it to the C-suite, an MBA should be on your to-do list.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger.