The C-suite - moving up and moving in

This report presents a series of in-depth interviews with leaders who have had CEO and other C-suite roles in some of Australia and New Zealand’s most respected organisations.

The performance of Chief Executive Officers in Australia and New Zealand is highly scrutinised. Their decisions, their style, and their tenure is considered, critiqued and speculated about by external stakeholders such as investors, suppliers, the media, and governance bodies. They’re also closely watched inside their organisations as they set the behavioral tone for their workplaces. How they act, speak, and set expectations provide the management template for others.

C-suite roles are the highest ranking roles in an organisation, and those holding the roles are the “chiefs” of their functions. The CEO, the highest ranking member of the C-suite, has the broadest remit and the highest profile. The scrutiny CEOs work under is shared, to a lesser extent, by their fellow C-suite executives—leaders who may be in training for the top job or, whose roles have a major impact on the organisation’s performance. The rise of social and online media—and the thirst for content to populate multiple information platforms—has brought an increased level of transparency and immediacy of information about the decisions and events that impact the business ecosystem and, in particular, it’s management.

What is less known, however, is the journey C-suite executives have taken to reach the top roles. The pathway to the top is often not an established, linear journey. In fact, it’s as diverse as those who travel on it, and it can start long before his or her first management position.

Korn Ferry interviewed 11 business leaders in Australia and New Zealand who hold, or have held, chief executive officer and a variety of C-suite roles, to learn about the experiences that contributed to or defined their journey
to the top job.

Our conversations were with executives who have diverse backgrounds and experiences. Their pathway to the C-suite was gained in traditional companies and digital pure-play businesses including listed companies, government, multinationals, not-for-profits, professional services, and start-ups. They’ve worked in a variety of sectors including: retail, banking, health, technology, telecommunications, media, education, construction, and tourism. Many made their journey to the C-suite working for some of Australia’s biggest brands, while others created new businesses that disrupted, and innovated upon traditional models.

Their journeys differed but were all influenced and, in some cases, defined by unexpected forks in the road, what we call “sliding door” moments, where a decision to walk towards or away from an opportunity has profound consequences on a career.

This report; The C-suite: Moving Up and Moving In, provides insight into the early experiences that set a pathway to business success, along with the career decisions, and risks that have taken people to the top of their organisations. The events and experiences that influenced the executives are at times surprising and revealing. The report provides insights into what makes these leaders tick and inspiration for others who are commencing an executive career, serving as first-time CEOs, or building high performing C-suite teams.

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