Everything we thought we knew about what it takes to get to the top is wrong. You must graduate from an elite college or business school. In fact, only 7 percent of the CEOs of today’s companies went to a top school–and 8 percent didn’t graduate from college at all. Given how cuthroat the competition to get to the corner office is, you can never suffer a career detour or make a major mistake. In fact, people who have become CEOs have on average had five to seven career setbacks on their way to the top.
When most of us think of a CEO, we tend to think of companies in the Fortune 100, or 500, or if we’re being particularly generous, the Fortune 1000. In fact, however, there are more than 6 million CEOs in America today of companies with under 500 employees. And the overwhelming majority of those CEOs did not go to Harvard, Wharton or Stanford business schools, or the University of Chicago. Some are immigrants; many worked their way up through the ranks from entry-level positions. They do, however, share certain attributes, as Botelho and Powell have discoverd over the years from their work with CEOs and by mining their company’s research and databanks. The people who become CEO’s are decisive–they may not always make the best decision, but they make the best decision they can based on the information they have at the time; they are reliable–they deliver exactly what they promised to deliver, on time, without exception.