COB Blog by Dr. Lisa Burke
August 2013

Debunking the Myth that “Top CEOs don’t come out of HR”

HR departments have come under fire in the practitioner literature for being compliance-obsessed, solely operationally focused, and unable to function effectively at the executive table. Perhaps some of these criticisms are deserved, especially for certain incumbents, although we should acknowledge that some possess no formal HR training/education, paltry staffs, meager organizational resources at their disposal, and scant support for professional development.

It would be easy, based on this media buzz, to assume that CEOs skip the HR role in their experiential development to the top, but that would NOT be accurate.

Actually, 13 CEOs of current Fortune 100 companies have some HR work in their corporate backgrounds; this fact vividly exemplifies the increasing value U.S. business have placed on human capital management experience. [See McNamara & Ramanujam, March 2013, Vanderbilt blog, http://blogs.owen.vanderbilt.edu/tamifassinger/5-myths-surrounding-hr-careers/].

Groysberg, Kelly, & MacDonald (2011) also report the consistent research finding that job requirements for all C-level jobs have shifted toward increased business intelligence as well as “softer” leadership skills.  Put simply, appreciating the people part of business, and knowing how to manage talent in contemporary global operations is key.

Lisa Burke Ph.D., SPHR

Dr. Burke is a UC Foundation Professor in the Department of Management in the College of Business.

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