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BUSINESS CAREER GUIDES

CEO Career

OVERVIEW

What Is a CEO?


 

Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are responsible for leading an entire organization or company. CEOs can be found across all industries and company sizes, from startups with four employees to massive global corporations with hundreds of teams and thousands of employees. They can lead product-based companies, health care facilities, insurance companies, and more.

The role of CEO means working in a high-stakes and high-pressure environment. From navigating partnerships and communicating with stakeholders to overseeing all components of a business, CEOs carry a heavy burden. Ultimately, the growth of a business falls on the shoulders of a CEO

RESPONSIBILITIES

What Does a CEO?

Staying profitable, keeping an edge above the competition, and preparing for the future are three major components of being a CEO. As a CEO, you’ll lead the vision and strategy for the entire business, leaning on your team of executive leaders to lead and drive company initiatives. 

You may not know whether your goal is to become a CEO until you’ve worked within an industry or role for several years. About 70% of CEOs didn’t start their careers knowing they wanted to become CEO. So if you’re not sure whether you’re interested in being a CEO or not, you’re in good company. 

Some typical CEO responsibilities include the following: 

  • Lead the direction of the business. Balancing profits, costs, and opportunities, CEOs determine an organization’s direction. They develop a strategy and communicate their vision and inspire their organization to be excited about changes and moving towards the future. 
  • Delegate projects and initiatives. Generally, executive members report to the CEO. As chief executive officer, you’ll directly oversee the COO, CFO, Vice President(s), and more depending on the organization. 
  • Assess progress towards business goals. Gathering information from the executive team and VPs in the business, CEOs assess progress towards goals and how to move forward to meet annual expectations and improve financial growth. 
  • Explore acquisitions and opportunities. A CEO is usually looking for ways to enhance shareholder value. Exploring and executing acquisitions and other opportunities allow CEOs to drive value for the business. 
  • Oversee P&L and financial planning. Understanding and overseeing a company’s profit and loss (P&L) is also an essential component of being a chief executive officer. CEOs receive reports from various departments to forecast future costs and understand actual financial scenarios.

EDUCATION & BEST DEGREES

How Do I Become a CEO?

Becoming a CEO usually takes many years of moving up and understanding an industry. With so few CEO positions, this is a highly competitive position that requires strategy, adaptability, and resilience. 

Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree. 

A bachelor’s degree is usually preferred to launch your career whether in a corporate, government, or health care environment. A bachelor’s degree in a business field is especially helpful to giving you a good foundation for your career. 

Step 2: Consider working at a smaller organization. 

Working at a smaller organization will help you gain upper-level management experience sooner. Startups and smaller organizations allow you to wear a lot of hats and work cross-functionally. With increasing leadership experience, you’ll set yourself apart from peers. 

Step 3: Find an industry you’re excited about. 

Try out different companies to see what kind of culture you like and learn as much as you possibly can about the industry. 

Step 4: Make networking your priority. 

Building connections is essential to your career development. Set up monthly coffee chats or lunch meetings with as many colleagues as you can. The effort you put forth will be well worth it; you’ll start to find connections growing deeper and doors opening for future opportunities.

Step 5: Start getting management experience.  

Previous management experience can be found in over 90% of CEOs. You’ll need to have a progressive amount of management experience to become a CEO. 

Step 6: Make strategic career moves. 

Be open to making lateral moves—getting ahead doesn’t always mean constant upward mobility. You need experience in a variety of different roles and departments to understand different aspects of the business. 

Step 7: Earn your master’s degree. 

A master’s degree will be key to help refine your leadership skills and stand out among the competition. Keep your skills sharp and challenge yourself to get a better understanding of business operations, management, and finance by earning your master’s degree or MBA. Popular master’s degrees for CEOs include MBAs or leadership and management focused master’s programs.

Almost half of Fortune 500 CEOs have an MBA. While every organization is different, most CEOs have a formal education. If you’ve got your eye on becoming a CEO, pursuing an MBA or MSML will help you refine your managerial expertise and develop stronger business acumen.

Best Degrees for a CEO

Business Management – B.S. Business Administration

Hone your business acumen and garner added respect:...

Hone your business acumen and garner added respect:

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition: $3,755 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 40 total courses in this program.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • Account executive
  • Business analyst
  • Program manager
  • Director or senior director
  • Vice president

This online degree program is an excellent choice for kick-starting your organizational management career.

Management and Leadership – M.S.

An online master's degree focused on change management, innovation, and...

An online master's degree focused on change management, innovation, and leading teams:

  • Time: 70% of graduates can finish in 20 months.
  • Tuition: $4,755 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 10 total courses in this program

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • President
  • Vice president
  • Director of operations
  • Executive director

Develop a comprehensive suite of leadership skills and your confidence to navigate changing business structures.

Master of Business Administration

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on business management,...

The flexible MBA program you need, focused on business management, strategy, and leading teams:

  • Time: Graduates can finish in 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,755 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 11 total courses in this program.

Sample careers and jobs this business degree will prepare you for:

  • President and CEO
  • Vice president
  • Executive director
  • Chief strategic officer

Our competency-based model gives you an innovative learning experience you won't find anywhere else—and our MBA grads tell us they loved accelerating their program to see a faster ROI.

How Much Does an Event Planner Make?

$181,023

According to PayScale, $181,023 is the average salary for CEOs. Glassdoor reports the median annual salary was $378,517 in May 2023.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

4%

Through 2031, the BLS projects top executives opportunities to grow by 4%, which is about the average growth rate for all occupations.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

5%

Management jobs are expected to grow by 5% from 2019 to 2029, a rate faster than the average expected expansion across all occupations. This will mean an estimated 505,000 new management positions across a variety of different industries.

Exact business manager growth figures are largely dependent on the success of the respective industries hiring business managers. Because business managers are responsible for managing businesses in healthcare, educational, industrial, automotive, technological, and other markets, the outlook is difficult to forecast.

Still, the need for business managers to tie financial goals, employee management, and corporate best practices together is only expected to increase in years to come. 

SKILLS

What Skills Does a CEO?

Above day-to-day tasks, CEOs must drive long-term growth for the company. Understanding and overseeing a company’s profit and loss (P&L) is an essential component of being a chief executive officer.
Here are the skills required of a CEO:

  • Ability to think strategically and creatively to solve business problems 
  • Comfortable creating and leading long-term vision and goals 
  • Excellent management and leadership skills 
  • Understanding of P&L and other key performance indicators  
  • Strong relationship-building skills and affinity for creating lasting connections 
  • Adept at analyzing and assessing progress towards goals 
  • Ability to recognize skills and strengths of staff/personnel 
  • Understanding of competitive landscape 
  • Demonstrating resilience and determination in the face of hardship 
  • Ability to plan for the future and prepare for changes 

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No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Interested in Becoming a CEO?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.