From MBA to CEO


If your dream is to become a CEO, you must keep From MBA to CEO by your side throughout your career.

From MBA to CEO is about inspiring and guiding young men and women throughout their careers to become great leaders in order to help them become successful CEOs.

Every question that you have cannot be answered in this book, but I can inspire you to plan, to reflect and to use sound judgement throughout your career.

It is perhaps easier to get the job of CEO than it is to keep it; therefore, we have set out to inspire you to behave in such a manner that you will help you to retain this job.

I am an experienced global CEO and Chairman who has taught leadership to MBA students at IMd, lBS and CBS. For the writing of this book, I teamed up with Egon Zehnder, a leading global search firm, and about 200 MBA students from some of the world’s preeminent business school, thus enabling myself, as the author, to provide the very best insight, expertise and advice available.

The reason for writing this book was simple: during the course of my lectures and career, I was asked a tremendous amount of questions about how to become a CEO. This book was the obvious way of making these views, observations and personal experiences of the topic available to all MBAs who dream of becoming successful CEOs.

The objective has been to write a book that will become the MBA’s primary reference and career guide for their entire professional life.

We cover all sizes of CEO jobs, from small businesses to very large ones.

Importantly, however, we don’t believe that we can teach people to become great leaders, but we do believe that we can inspire people to become great leaders. We also believe that you must be a great leader if your dream is to become a successful CEO. Being a successful CEO is very much about skills and mindset.

We have conducted a research project with the aim of identifying the most pressing questions of ambitious MBA students with CEO ambitions, as well as addressing such questions. We have also incorporated issues that were not raised during our sessions but which we know, from experience, that people with CEO ambitions encounter during their careers. We address all of these topics and give our best advice and guidance to each of them.

How to read the book:

The book is designed in a manner that will help you to achieve your career goals. It should be on your iPad and by your bedside throughout your entire career. When you dive into the book for the first time, we recommend you read it in chronological order. If you do so, you will find that it contains some repetition: this is deliberate so that thereafter you can dive into the chapters you need.

The book is structured as follows:

    Progressing through my own story in detail has helped me to understand the issues faced by young professionals with CEO ambitions. It has also helped me to conclude that CEOs are not born but are made when given opportunities and taking the chance to utilise such opportunities.
  • PART I provides practical and deep insights into the role of CEO.
  • PART II explains the characteristics and skills of great leaders.
  • PART III is centred on reflection, and self-assessing your determination and leadership potential to become a CEO. We help you establish whether or not you really want to become a CEO, and if you have what it takes to become a successful CEO.
  • PART IV is concerned with career planning. Subjects covered include how to leverage your MBA, how to make a career plan, the creation of a personal brand, stepping onto the career ladder, how to climb the career ladder, and how to work with executive search firms.
  • PART V is about many of the career and leadership issues that you will encounter throughout you career. Some of the issues were discovered during our research project.Others fall into the category, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’. These are issues that we have come across during our many years of experience in business. you can also see this last part of the book as an easy way of getting inspiration regarding issues covered in the book, as well as about issues not covered elsewhere in the book.

About our research:

Our research project very much supports the view that there is a real and unmet need for our book. The participating students we spoke to during the course of the research phase said that they were unable to find books that could help them with their career all the way from the Classroom to the Boardroom.

We interacted with approximately 200 MBA students from ten of the world’s leading business schools. half accepted our invitation to have their names mentioned in the book. Between them, they represent more than 50 nationalities from all five continents.

We have been overwhelmed by students’ interest in the topic of how to become a successful CEO. This interest was evidenced by audience responses to a lecture entitled, ‘The Job of CEO and How You Get It’, which was devised and delivered at the participating schools.

We conducted a qualitative research amongst 200 MBA students, and held career and leadership sessions with many of them, during which time they helped us to define their key questions. We received more than 1,000 questions during the course of the study, posed by the MBA students. Many questions raised the same concerns, and we took this into account when structuring the book.

Many of the students also had access to early drafts of the book and contributed with a wealth of valuable insight. Thus, the book is a result of a fantastic collaborative effort between the book team and students from the participating business schools.

MY HOPE: Normally I do not apply ‘MBH—Management By Hope’—but in this case I do: it is my sincere hope that From MBA to CEO, with its wealth of advice will inspire and guide young men and women to become great leaders—and, subsequently, successful CEOs.

It is also my hope that young executives with degrees other than an MBA will be inspired by the book and thus achieve their own career goals.

THANK YOU: As great leaders know, a one-person team can only achieve very limited results in business, and the same applies when writing books. I am therefore very grateful to have been able to work with a fantastic team and book community. A big thank you goes to Egon Zehnder, to the participating business schools and their busy and enthusiastic students, to Clare MacCarthy for editorial advice, and to our sponsor—the Apax Foundation.

Waldemar Schmidt

Your A–Z career guide

This section of the book is designed as a constant source of inspiration about key leadership and career issues that both young and mature leaders will face during their entire working lives. There are, however no black-and-white solutions. The purpose is to inspire you and help you find your own way in dealing with these critical issues.

The book contains the entire guide. Here we give you two examples with issues that you are likely to encounter during your career:

ARROGANCE: Probably the worst enemy of great leadership. If arrogance is an ingrained component of your DNA and you cannot get rid of it, it is highly unlikely that you will have a long career in leading positions. Arrogance does not only stem from your DNA. Successful leaders often become arrogant because of their success. They do not notice. If arrogance is part of your DNA, you must understand and accept that people see you as arrogant. Thereafter, you must make an effort to change your behaviour and arrange that someone you trust and respect polices your behaviour and gives you honest feedback on your progress in order to ensure you lose the arrogant style. In many cases, your spouse or partner would be the best person to help you with this very delicate task. In order to avoid arrogance creeping in because of your success, you are well advised to avoid becoming a ‘Celebrity CEO’ who spends excessive time outside the company on boards, giving speeches at conferences, appearing in the media and ending up as ‘Manager of the Year’. Your spouse or partner should help you to remain the genuine person you were, when you got the CEO job.

ZERO — TEN SCALE: Many managers struggle with determining what is important. A simple method that we have found very helpful has been to ask the question: “On a scale from 0 — 10, how important is this?” When posing this question to a CEO who presented an acquisition to his board he paused for a long time, finally said “5” and then added, “I no longer think that we should make this acquisition.”