No accounting for tastes

Good news for loyal junior bean counters - you're now hot favourite to land the CEO job in 20 years...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Chief executives are now more likely to be drawn from the finance function rather than marketing, which was previously the favoured route to the corner office. Or at least, that’s the opinion of Monika Hamori, a professor at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid – and her research backs up a 2005 study by CFO magazine, which found that one-fifth of US CEOs were former chief financial officers (that’s almost double the share of a decade earlier). Your junior accountants may not seem as immediately impressive as those colourful young marketing types, but apparently they’re more likely to end up as your boss.

In a post-Enron era when everyone’s terrified of accounting scandals, perhaps it’s no wonder that finance chiefs are now ruling the roost. But if you really want to be CEO, you’ll need more than just a good head for figures. Commitment also helps; Professor Hamori’s research found that one-company ‘lifers’ get the top job in 22 years in the US or 24 years in Europe - whereas those flighty commitment-phobes who have jumped around 4 or more companies during their working lives take at least 26 years to reach the top. Apparently this loyalty is more common in the US, where 26% of bosses have been in the same firm all their life – the equivalent figure for us feckless Europeans is just 18% (whatever happened to variety being the spice of life?).

And that’s not the only area where the two continents diverge. Various recent studies appear to have put paid to the myth that American corporate culture is a tougher place to survive than its supposedly softer European counterpart – if anything,  US CEOs get an easier ride. Consultancy Booz & Company worked out recently that 17.6% of European bosses moved on last year, compared to 15.2% of US chiefs. Moreover, a sizeable 37% of these European ‘moves’ were of the ‘encouraged’ variety (and we all know what that means) – while the American equivalent was a mere 27%.

So the perfect equation for career advancement is apparently: be loyal, be good at maths, and if you want to stay longer in the boss’ chair, stay in the US. It all seems to add up...

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