Here's what it takes to become a CEO of a large ASX-listed company

A desk suspended from the outside of a building in London. Ian Gavan/Getty Images for O2

Many aspire to the top job in a large Australian company, but few make it.

Analysis of those already in the job shows the common skills and traits of the CEOs at Australia’s top ASX-listed companies.

They tend to be men, based in Sydney, are likely to have a postgraduate degree, and a background in finance as well as international work experience.

It might also help by having the first name Andrew — 7% of the ASX 200-listed CEOs have that name.

And almost two thirds (62%) were already working for the company when promoted to chief executive. The average tenure was eight years before getting the big role.

Getting to the top is rewarding. The median realised pay, including equity awards and bonuses, for ASX100 CEOs was $3.78 million in 2016, according to the annual survey by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.

The CEO Tracker by specialist recuiter Robert Half shows that among ASX 200-listed company CEOs:

  • 94% are male. Only 12 of the ASX 200 CEOs are women.
  • 47% are based in Sydney.
  • 50% have a background in finance.
  • 54% have completed a postgraduate degree. One in five (22%) have an MBA.
  • 59% have international work experience.
  • 61% have been in the role for five years or less.

“It is not surprising to see that half of Australia’s ASX 200 CEOs have financial backgrounds,” says David Jones, Senior Managing Director of Robert Half Asia Pacific.

“Companies are constantly under pressure to improve profit margins and deliver increased shareholder value.

“Business leaders with strong financial capabilities are highly valued as they can easily interpret the financial ramifications of business decisions, adding a practical, financial perspective to a strategic one.”

The five most popular degrees of ASX200 CEOs:

Source: Robert Half

After Sydney, the dominant business centre, more than a quarter (27%) of the CEOs are based in Melbourne, followed by Brisbane (9%), Perth (9%) and Adelaide (3%).

International work experience is valued, with 66 CEOs having worked throughout the Asia Pacific region, 59 in Europe, 54 in North America, 17 in Africa, 11 in Latin America and five in the Middle East.

Here’s where CEOs got their international experience:

Source: Robert Half

“In today’s globalised world, obtaining experience of different working cultures is an important way for business leaders to differentiate themselves,” says Jones.

“As technology continues to develop and make it easier for more businesses to work across international boundaries, being able to demonstrate success in different countries and global assignments is a credential in business leaders that is highly sought-after .”

Most (61%) of the CEOs have been in the role for less than five years, more than a quarter (26%) have been there for six to 10 years and 13% for more than 11 years.

Here are the previous roles the CEOs held before being appointed:

Source: Robert Half

“The DNA of the modern CEO continues to evolve as businesses operate in an increasingly competitive and changing environment,” says Jones.

“Naturally, it takes a very driven individual to become CEO — of any type of company.

“As organisations operate in uncertain times, they need to proactively identify the right talent for the top job.

“With the advancement of automation, digital transformations, regulatory frameworks, and globalisation, companies need leaders who can not only meet business goals, but also successfully leverage these changes, whilst possessing a strong people focus as well as financial and business acumen in order to keep their organisation afloat and prosperous during continuously fluctuating economic conditions.”

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