Where is the Next Generation of CEOs Coming From?

The C-suite is shifting. The ‘baby boomer’ generation, who’ve dominated corporate leadership for decades, are gradually handing over the reins to a new generation – with new CEO recruitment taking place to manage succession plans for companies big and small.

But where are these leaders emerging from, and what qualities will define their leadership style? Whilst the answer to this is very much dependent on the needs of the role, the market, organisation and its culture – we’ve explored some emerging trends…

Embracing Technology

Technology’s no longer a buzzword; it’s the DNA of many modern businesses, transforming agility and bringing competitive advantage. This means the boardroom needs leaders who embrace its benefits. We expect to see more CEOs with backgrounds in digital strategy, data analytics, and artificial intelligence as things evolve. They’ll be the architects of innovation, driving companies towards data-driven decision-making and agile adaptability in a constantly evolving tech ecosystem. We’ve seen some examples of this in some of the biggest corporates in the world, including Satya Nadella transforming Microsoft’s cloud focus, or Sundar Pichai’s AI-powered vision for Alphabet.

Diverse Boardrooms

Boardrooms are becoming more diverse with organisations reaping the benefits which come from diverse leadership teams – which we know perform better than those who lack differing perspectives. Millennials and Gen Z bring fresh perspectives, challenging traditional hierarchies and pushing for inclusivity perhaps more than previous generations. Female CEOs are on the rise, with Mary Barra at GM and Hannah Gibson at Ocado as just two examples. We expect more leaders who champion equal opportunities and understand the value of diverse viewpoints in tackling complex challenges will emerge.

Beyond the MBA

The traditional CEO pedigree – a top-tier MBA – is losing its prominence as a decision making factor for appointing CEOs. While strong skills credentials remain valuable, experience outside the corporate structured education is gaining traction. We anticipate more CEOs will emerge with commercial experience in entrepreneurial ventures, non-profit, or even scientific backgrounds. These “cross-pollinators” bring unique problem-solving skills and in some cases a broader understanding of challenges from their commercial hands-on experience.

The Purpose-Driven Pivot

Profits alone are no longer enough for some businesses. Today’s CEOs are expected to navigate a complex landscape of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns. Sustainability, ethical sourcing, and community engagement are no longer add-ons; they’re core business considerations. We expect more leaders will enter CEO roles who drive positive societal impact alongside financial success – this requires careful balance. Many businesses, such as Virgin have embraced this in their approach to running a growing their organisations.

The Rise of Soft Skills

While technical and commercial expertise is crucial, we think the next generation of CEOs will reinforce the need for empathy, emotional intelligence, and strong communication skills, which are becoming increasingly essential. The need for strong practical change management and transformation skills are also increasingly important, with technological advancements generating more need for change than ever before. Leaders will need to build trust and collaboration within their teams, navigate turbulent times, and inspire employees with a shared vision. Charismatic communicators like Tesla’s Elon Musk or Virgin Group’s Richard Branson are great examples of leaders who can rally both the boardroom and the public.

The Rise of the Hybrid Leader

Moving away from the corner office stereotype, tomorrow’s CEOs are increasingly agile in their own working practice, being comfortable navigating global markets and virtual teams from remote and hybrid workplaces – spending more time working from locations across the business and remotely. They’ll be data-driven, yet understand the human element. They’ll be decisive, yet open to feedback – and perhaps more accessible to their teams than ever before.

Growing Your Own Leaders

There is an increase in investment for leadership development to identify and develop internal talent. With access to information and opportunities more readily available than ever before, traditional leadership pathways are increasingly less rigid. We expect to see more self-made CEOs who have carved their own career paths through ongoing development and promotion. One great example of this is Pret A Manger CEO Pano Christou, who famously rose through the ‘ranks’ from the shop floor, to CEO.

In summary, we think the next generation of CEOs will be increasingly diverse, tech-embracing, and purpose-driven, capable of navigating a complex and ever-changing markets and advancements. They’ll be bridge builders, leading with empathy, adaptability, and a clear vision for the future – without losing sight of the need for optimal commercial performance. Ultimately though, the case remains that the ideal CEO will vary depending on the organisation, its function, size, geography, culture and various other factors.

CJPI Insights

This post has been published by the CJPI Insights Editorial Team, compiling the best insights and research from our experts.

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