Strong leadership from a chief executive officer (CEO) is at the core of a successful business, as they are often the highest-ranking officer in a company and determine the organization’s overall course and plan of action. For example, an organization’s leadership directs not only the business’s objectives but also the employees who see such endeavors to completion. The role of CEO is necessary to push strategic business development in a positive direction, and as such, this is often the highest-ranking position in organizations both public and private. Becoming a CEO takes commitment, determination, confidence and most often, an advanced degree that teaches proper management and business-building techniques. Enrolling in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) can be a helpful step to gaining the professional experience that may lead to a rewarding career as a CEO.

Education Requirements

For the majority of aspiring CEOs, climbing to the top of a business is not possible without an advanced degree (the exceptions being those chief executive officers who establish their own companies and serve as both founder and CEO). At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree and extensive industry experience is required to be considered for the position of CEO. According to Forbes’ research, more than half of Fortune 100 CEOs have a degree in business, economics or accounting, while 27 percent studied engineering or science and 14 percent have a law degree. Because competition is fierce, preference is often given to those with an advanced degree in business administration (MBA) and at least a decade of industry experience.


For those pursuing an MBA with the goal of becoming a CEO, you can expect to learn negotiation skills, financial models, and management and critical thinking skills during your time in a master’s program. Chief executive officers should have a broad-based background in business—skills in human resources, finance, and marketing, as well as an aptitude for sales techniques and product knowledge, all make for a well-rounded chief executive.

CEOs often possess a greater understanding of the marketplace and competition, thus bringing a history of hands-on experience to departments developing or marketing a product on a massive scale. Ideally, companies will seek a CEO who has a detailed understanding of the industry in which they operate and a keen awareness of how to retain their audience and customer base. For example, if a multimillion-dollar shoe company conducts a search for a new CEO, they may look to hire an executive who also comes from a retail background, or more specifically, the footwear industry. This CEO is set up for greater success in the new role because he/she has specific industry experience and skills that help improve the company’s product or service.

Another key duty of leading a business as a chief executive officer is to create and manage the organization’s leadership and goals respective to individual departments. This often includes core competencies in leadership, communication, analytical intelligence, and decision-making. In other words, a CEO must understand when to lead, when to follow, when to seek assistance, how to delegate effectively and how to communicate properly with all critical parties.

Duties and Responsibilities

A chief executive officer’s main responsibility is to drive a company forward with strong leadership and clear company goals. CEOs are expected to determine and formulate the policies and overall direction of the organization they are leading, adhering to the guidelines set by the board of directors, founders or a similar governing body within the company. A CEO is responsible for communicating with investors and shareholders, sometimes serving on a trade association committee or board and, barring the presence of the company’s founder, acts as the face of the business.

In an internal capacity, a CEO helps to build company culture and retain employees by reinforcing strong organizational values and goals. This responsibility includes creating a vision and mission that incorporates the overarching strategy for and execution of those goals. A CEO sets clear standards for employee development and regularly communicates information relating to the company vision to the entire organization in a timely, transparent and relevant fashion. A competent CEO will also oversee the planning, directing and coordination of operational activities at a strategic level, which allows directors and middle managers flexibility when directing lower level employees. CEOs also seek ways to advance the company as a whole, and while their primary aim is to promote financial efficiency, they must also strive to give back to both employees and the local community via a corporate culture grounded in community service. This is achieved through the pursuit of charitable opportunities that uphold the company’s values and beliefs.

Salary and Benefits

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that chief executive officers nationwide earned a median annual salary of $194,350 as of May 2016. However, this number varies depending on the kind of organization for which an executive works, including for-profit businesses, start-ups, nonprofits, governments, social enterprises and beyond. The size of the organization and the industry outlook may also factor into a CEO’s salary. In addition, an individual’s level of experience and education will also impact job opportunities and salary considerations. CEOs are often compensated with additional benefits that include stock options, performance bonuses, expense allowances, company vehicles and relocation assistance (if needed).

CEOs serve as the strategic leader of an organization, managing the difficult task of overseeing a company’s initiatives. From setting annual goals to developing company-wide approaches to employee satisfaction, CEOs act as the heart, soul, and face of a company. A Master of Business Administration degree can help to prepare an aspiring CEO for high-level tasks in upper management, providing the necessary skills to focus on exploring key leadership and delegation strategies.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration program helps create strong leaders well-versed in business management practices. Students can customize their MBA by choosing a concentration in construction management, finance, organizational leadership, project management, supply chain management & logistics, or energy management.


Chief Executives, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How To Become A CEO: These Are The Steps You Should Take, Forbes

College Education Requirements for Top Chief Executive Officers, Houston Chronicle

The Top 15 Essential CEO Skills, The American CEO

CEO Skills Inventory, Fred Gibbons

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