Sales - A Foundation for CEO Leadership

According to a NZ survey in 2016, one in five Kiwi CFO’s are ambitious to move into CEO roles - this isn’t surprising when you consider that most CEOs are accountants, lawyers or technicians by background.

But what about Sales-led CEO’s?

A study by the American Marketing Association last year found a sales or marketing background was a good springboard to becoming a CEO. Conducted by Frank Germann, an assistant professor at University of Notre Dame’s business school, it discovered 25% of CEOs have a sales or marketing background.

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Germann’s work, with contemporaries from Stanford University and the University of London, looked at 233 of the largest public companies in America and examined 506 CEOs. It also found that 20% of CEOs had formative experience, after tertiary study, in a sales and marketing role.

But most importantly, Germann concluded that CEOs with a sales or marketing background tend to be “a little more agile, more versatile, and less risk-averse.”

Amanda Santos, CEO of Tekron, believes sales leaders have the core skills to make excellent CEO’s with their focus on strategy, culture, and people.

Amanda Santos CEO, Tekron International

Amanda Santos CEO, Tekron International

“Financial competence is key in managing a company at the top level, accompanied by the ability to be evaluative and strategically-minded. Above all, salespeople must be good communicators and good leaders, who know how to develop staff and bring out the best in people. An understanding of people and what drives them is essential, and a positive attitude is also an advantage”.

Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox from 2001 – 2009, is widely credited with setting the company on a better course. Indeed, she was named CEO of the year by Chief Executive magazine in 2008.  But well before that, she was a Xerox field sales representative.


Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox from 2001-2009

Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox from 2001-2009

Likewise, Warren Buffett, with a net worth of around $66 billion, started out as a salesman.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recommended back in 2012 that CEO’s get serious about sales. It found that CEOs who put sales at the top of their agenda have experienced exponential growth, outperforming their peers by 50 to 80 percent regarding revenue and profitability.

HBR says companies would be unwise to ignore the potential of a well-developed sales force in a modern company, saying that sales are what drives a company.

Therefore, it is clear a sales background at the head of a boardroom will be the start of enormous success in any company.

Considering this, who better than a person with a sales background to be your CEO?