Your Path To the C-Suite March 10, 2020 by Job Ready

C-suite is the term given to the highest level of leadership within a company or organization. Specific titles may vary depending on company and industry, but typically the “C’ in the term represents the word “chief” in different corporate titles, such as chief executive officer (CEO) and chief financial officer (CFO).

Also known as C-level executives, C-suite members are individuals who are responsible for leading a business organization and its respective departments. They work together as a team to ensure that the company’s operations and strategies are in line with its policies and plans. In a public company, activities that aren’t effective in generating more profits for shareholders have to be corrected under the oversight of the C-suite personnel. Since they’re regularly required to make high-stakes decisions, C-level executives are rewarded with the largest compensation packages in the company.

The executive-level C-suite of a company can be a challenging yet rewarding professional experience. These professionals lead a variety of departments and important organization functions to ensure goals are met and progress is made. You can begin your path toward the C-suite in an entry-level position and advance your way up to an executive position. 

Paths to the C-Suite

The following are the most common paths to the C-suite:

Long tenure

Internal promotion of long-term employees is the most common and predictable path to the C-suite. If you plan to become a C-level executive through internal promotion, you need to work for the same company for at least 15 years, gain institutional knowledge and experience steadily and ascend to higher, more-demanding positions. Additionally, you must be able to reinvent yourself as the company evolves with time.

Free agency

External recruitment is another common way to reach the C-suite. The chosen candidate may become a C-level executive right away or serve as the second-in-command in a certain department before being promoted. To get a spot in the C-suite as an external candidate, you need to build an impressive track record of success and develop your experience, expertise and personal brand in a strategic manner.

Business ownership

As the owner of a business, you can create your own opportunities and have more control over your advancement to the C-suite. In addition to investing in the business, you need to have excellent sales and communication skills, build a strong network and cultivate a tolerance for uncertainty.

How to become a successful C-suite executive

If you want to maximize your chances of success, you should start planning your path as soon as possible. Follow these tips to carve a career path that leads to the C-suite:

1. Choose the right entry-level position

Most of the C-suite executives in large companies worked their way up internally. If you can position yourself in the right entry-level role and succession of roles, you’ll find yourself on the right path to the C-suite. Many aspiring CEOs choose to gain substantial operational experience, such as running regional or international divisions, before they take the top job. Having solid financial skills can also increase your chances of reaching the C-suite.

2. Get recognized for the right reasons

Regardless of where you are on the corporate ladder, it’s beneficial to get recognized for your initiative. You can gain recognition by volunteering for new opportunities, demonstrating a can-do attitude and taking on assignments or positions that require travel or relocation. Also, look out for opportunities to work with or be mentored by a C-level executive. This opportunity allows you to get to know them more personally, seek advice and gain a better understanding of the life of an executive.

3. Develop leadership qualities

If you’re aspiring to be a top executive, you need to develop people skills to get the best results from the teams you’ll be leading in the future. To be an effective leader, you have to be able to communicate in a clear and persuasive manner, keep your teams motivated and set a good example for your subordinates. In addition, you also need to remain calm and focused under pressure. 

4. Cultivate your personal brand

The passions and aspirations that drive you professionally and personally are the personal brand values that make you stand out in your company. In your workplace, surround yourself with like-minded coworkers who reflect your brand values. This can help you establish meaningful and motivating relationships and establish a reputation as a valuable team player and potential leader. Outside of work, make sure the online identity you portray on your website and social media is consistent with your brand values.