New research on corporate leaders featured in Wall Street Journal

DECEMBER 14, 2023

Illustration: WSJ | Kiersten Essenpreis

The Wall Street Journal has featured new research published in California Management Review. "The Changing Ranks of Corporate Leaders" by Peter Cappelli, Rocio Bonet, and Monika Hamori examines the attributes of the ten highest-ranked executives of the largest corporate enterprises in the United States—the Fortune 100—and compares how they have changed over the past 40 years. During this period, many assumptions about businesses and the people who run them have shifted.

"[The new face of the C-suite] is older, with broader industry experience and increasingly female," Cappelli describes in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. "These are some of the most surprising findings my colleagues and I have uncovered about how C-suite leaders have changed over time. The findings, in some cases, seem to be at odds with each other. That is because many factors are pulling the business world in different directions."

Wall Street Journal

Who Gets Promoted to the C-Suite—and How That Has Changed Over the Decades

Among our findings: The average age of top executives started falling after 1980. But now it’s higher than it was 40 years ago.

Read article on WSJ

About the Research

Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania—along with co-authors Rocio Bonet and Monika Hamori—have been tracking the attributes of the leaders of the world’s biggest corporations, the Fortune 100, since 1980. This was a critical decade where many of the key forces shaping business today began. They aimed to investigate the prevailing views about top executive jobs: among them, that today's executives are younger, and come from more diverse backgrounds.

Knowing what the attributes of the executives actually are and whether these claims and others like them are true informs management scholars about social mobility, inequality, and more generally about who holds the power and influence in society.

The study asked two main questions. First, how have the demographic characteristics of those who got to the top changed across the years? Changes in the overall U.S. population were used as a baseline to understand whether the changes observed in the attributes of top executives were simply a reflection of the changes in the population. The results showed that corporations are becoming more inclusive in terms of the type of individuals who have access to top jobs, at least in terms of including women and immigrants. But they also contradict others, such as the belief that executives are getting younger.

Next was the question of “How did they get there?” The authors compared attributes related to the career paths individuals took to get to the top. The findings provide strong support for the claim that the lifetime employment model is over even in the biggest corporations. Many of today's executives jump to new jobs frequently, and have ample experience at other companies. But other evidence suggests that many of our assumptions about changes in top leaders are not true. For example, they are no longer getting to the top jobs faster.

Read article at SAGE Journals


California Management Review

Berkeley-Haas's Premier Management Journal

Published at Berkeley Haas for more than sixty years, California Management Review seeks to share knowledge that challenges convention and shows a better way of doing business.

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