Do you have a CEO position in your future?  Would you like to start a business, buy a business, or run a business for yourself or for investors?  If so, you need a broad array of skills and experience, probably at a very high level, to be successful. This test is based on CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid by John Decker.

Take this test to see where you score on the road to the corner office.  Use it to identify what you still need to learn to be successful in the top job.  Use it to identify skill and career development needs and to plot your learning path to future success.  If you take the test and realize the top job isn’t in your future, you can build realistic alternative career plans.  If you would like to take the test online, go to the CEOpyramid.com “Take the CEO Test” section.  Be honest! Score 0 to 4 on each question.

Rate yourself on each of the following skills:

General Management Section

1 Investor Results: No experience (0), Student of value creation (1), Contribute to operating performance (2),Contribute to investment performance (3), Deliver superior investment return (4)                                                                    _____

2 General Management: No experience (0), Work in line department (1), Work for general manager (2), General management experience (3), Run full P&L (4)        _____

                                                                                                                                                            3 Mission: Not aware of mission (0), Understand mission (1), Contribute to/set segment mission (2),Contribute to enterprise mission (3), Set and communicate enterprise mission (4)       _____                                                                            

4 Strategy: No experience (0), Understand business strategy (1), Contribute to dept. strategy development (2), Contribute to enterprise strategy (3), Lead and execute business-wide strategy (4)                                                                                                                           _____   

Key Relationships Section

5 Board: No board exposure (0), Follow board activities (1), Support board material preparations (2), Attend/present at board meetings (3), On/lead board (4)                   _____                                                                                              

6 Investor Relations: No exposure (0), Follow company I.R. actions (1), Contribute to I.R. efforts (2), Participate in I.R. communications (3), Set/lead/manage I.R. activities (4)                    _____                                                       

7 External Relations: Completely internal focus (0), Follow company E.R. activities (1), Contribute to/participate in E.R.activities (2), Build external relationships (3), Lead/spokesperson for external relations (4)                                                                        _____                            

Revenue Development Section

8 Marketing: No exposure (0), Aware of/support marketing (1), Contribute to marketing/product development (2), Experience in marketing (3), Lead marketing strategy and manage CMO (4)                                                                                                                      _____           

9 Sales: No experience (0), Sales experience (1), Sales management experience (2), Lead sales organization(3), Full responsibility for revenue line (4)                                                      _____                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

10 Mergers and Acquisitions: No exposure (0), Aware of company/industry activities (1), Contribute to diligence/integration (2), Seat at the table (3), Executed acquisitions/business sales (4)                                                                                                                               _____  

11 Global Management: All experience in one country (0), Company is international (1), Participate in international (2), Lead international components (3), Lead/manage all international/global (4)                                                                                                        _____

Operations/Administration Section

12 Operations: No experience (0), In operations (1), Manage part of operations (2), Manage all operations (3), Integrate operations with total business/manage COO/VP, Ops.(4)           _____                                                                                  

13 Accounting: No training (0), Trained/coursework (1), Contribute to budgets/variance analysis (2), Responsible for key numbers/cash (3), Manage CFO, SOX financial expert (4) ____                                                                                

14 Finance: No exposure (0), Aware of financing activities (1), Support financing efforts (2),Participate in fundraising (3), Lead/spokesperson in finance (4)                           _____                                                                                                                                                                                                                

15 Risk Management: Aware of operational risks (0), Contribute to risk identification (1), Manage dept. risk (2), Lead risk/crisis planning (3), Oversee all risk planning/mitigation (4)                                                                                


16 Legal: No legal exposure (0), Basic business legal training (1), Work with legal department on issues (2), Understand/deal with core business legal issues (3), Set legal strategy/manage counsel (4)                                                                                                                                _____

17 Ethics/Compliance: Personal ethical behavior (0), Built conscious personal ethics/compliance framework (1), Know compliance requirements (2), Contribute to company ethics/compliance efforts (3), Set and enforce ethics standards for company (4)             _____                                                              

18 Human Resources: Read the employee handbook (0), Understand company HR policies (1), Work with HR representative in hiring and employee relations (2), Contribute to company people strategy (3), Set HR strategy, oversee execution, manage HR function (4)             _____                                       

19 Information Technology: Basic IT knowledge (0), Power user (1), Work with IT on projects/implementations (2), Oversee IT for functional area (3), Set/Integrate IT strategy, manage CIO (4)                                                                                                                    _____

20 Engineering: No exposure (0), Work with/in engineering (1), Manage/guide engineering (2), Direct engineering's contribution (3), Set total engineering budget/manage contribution (4)


21 Turnarounds: No exposure (0), Participate in operational turnaround (1), Lead operational turnaround (2), Contribute to business turnaround (3), Lead/manage business turnaround (4)


Underlying Skills

22 Leadership: No leadership experience (0), HS, college, volunteer leadership experience (1), Department/regional leadership experience (2), Major function/business unit leadership experience (3), Lead entire enterprise team (4)                                                              _____                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

23 Management: Manage own job (0), Organize/manage department (1), Organize/manage multiple functions (2), Improve functional/organizational performance (3) Drive total business performance/cost improvement (4)                                                                                        _____

24 Culture: Haven’t thought about it (0), Aware of company culture and culture fit (1), Contribute to department/function culture development (2), Set/model culture for organization (3), Set/model/change culture enterprise-wide (4)                                        _____

25 Innovation: Just do my job (0), Propose innovative solutions to problems (1), Multiple innovations for the department (2), Set innovation culture/processes for organization (3), Build enterprise-wide competitive innovation strategy/results (4)                                                _____                                                                                               

26 Communications: Get your point across (0), Articulate, oral and written (1), Strong, trained speaker/writer (2), Persuasive champion for part of business (3), Effective company spokesperson (4)                                                                                                                      _____                                      

27 Interpersonal: Play nicely with others (0), Good understanding of individual and group behavior(1), Build strong productive relationships (2), Build high level relationships/executive interactions (3), Effective at executive/board level interactions (4)                               _____                                                                 

28 Negotiations: No exposure (0), One-on-one level negotiations/some training (1), Participate in/support broader business negotiations (2), Lead important negotiations (3), Final arbiter/deal sealer for company (4)                                                                                     _____

29 Urgency: Need pushing (0), Good personal urgency (1), Set pace for others (2), Build across-organizational urgency (3), Drive total business urgency level (4)                   _____                                                                                                     

30 Discipline: Undisciplined (0), Strong personal discipline (1), Build disciplined department (2), Set high level of discipline for organization (3), Built highly disciplined company (4)  _____                                                                             

31 Confidence: Little self-confidence (0), Confidence in some skill areas (1), Overall business confidence (2), Have survived crucible experience (3), Fully confident to run a business (4)


32 Energy: Average energy level (0), Relatively strong energy level (1), High personal energy level (2), Energize the organization (3), Exceptional energy level, energize the business (4)____                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

33 Decision Making: Don’t make/delay decisions (0), Some procrastination/some decisions (1),Tackle decisions immediately (2), Sophisticated decision making skills (3), Successfully made “bet the business” decisions (4)                                                                                    _____                                                                 

34 Business Judgment: Limited exposure (0), Good innate judgement (1), Learned from broad experience (2), Key contributor to business success (3), Led successful business (4)      _____                                                                   

                                                                                        TOTAL SCORE: ______

 TOTAL SCORE: 0-50: Start your journey, you have much to learn and experience to build

51-75: You are underway toward the top. Do a master plan and take control of your career

76-110: You are probably in or rapidly approaching the executive level. Think carefully about your next career moves to fill in the gaps

111+: With minor additions to your skill set you are ready for the CEO opportunity

To rapidly improve your score, read CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid  

Once you have taken the test, and if you are serious about your career, consider reviewing the results with people who know your work, and with your mentors (you do have mentors, don’t you?)  You might want to share the test with other career-minded people and your LinkedIn network.

If you would like to share your score, have a professional review of your results, or if you would like assistance with your career plan or work situation, please contact me, jdecker@mdlpartners.com

I would be very interested in your thoughts, results, and suggestions.

© John Decker, 2016



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Can you really take charge of your career? We are in a whirlwind of change. Knowledge is doubling every 18 months. New Facebook content additions have increased from 684,000 to 2.5 million per minute in the last few years. Wikipedia adds 60,000 new articles per month. There are now over 40 million Wikipedia articles in 293 languages. In an attempt to keep up, people are doing over 40,000 google searches per second.


At the same time, companies have their own whirlwind and can’t really help you with your career. There was over $4 trillion spent on acquisitions in 2015 ( that’s more than was spent in 2007, by the way). Most of these acquisitions will involve restructuring. there were 25,000 business bankruptcy filings in the last year. Many more are dealing with takeover attempts or activist investors.


Companies are struggling to survive, educational institutions are mostly behind the curve, old careers are dying and transforming, and your boss can’t help. He or she is too busy with career issues themselves, trying to do their job, and keeping you in line.


With all this, you could give up and say it’s impossible to plan a career, and simply try to be opportunistic.


My thinking, however, is that where there is change, there is opportunity. there is opportunity tothink through and plan better than others, to better anticipate and take advantage of change. There is opportunity to be proactive and find better, more appropriate, developmental, satisfying and rewarding careers. You can figure out how to ride the horse in the direction it’s going.


  1. Start your ride by understanding your strengths. People tend to like to do what they’re good at, and are good at what they like to do. look at what you enjoy for clues. Be particularly aware of “flow” where you are fully engaged, mastering the work, using your skills and experience to the fullest, even losing track of time. Use the pyramid model in CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid and the CEO test at CEOpyramid.com as starting points.


2. Crystalize your mission if you can. There are multiple resources and approaches including the mission chapter in CEO.  Try to boil it down to a relatively short actionable statement...Disney’s “I want to make people happy.” Google “personal mission” to start. (Google’s mission, by the way, is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.) If you can’t develop a personal mission, find an organization whose mission you can assimilate.


3. Once you have preliminary strengths and mission, start an organized information gathering process. Look at economic, technology, industry, and profession trends. Identify the best information sources and start a disciplined reading and note taking process. Possibly start a career journal. Certainly engage in career conversations. You talk sports and stocks, add career.


4. Crystallize all of the above into written plan, set goals and timetables for specific training and experience...I will be on a P&L team by X, and run a P&L by Y, and to do it I need to build and demonstrate these new skills A,B, C, D. Again, test he plan with mentors and professional career advisors if available.


5. Then go on a directed march to build these skills. By now you will have a pretty good sense of where you are going and how you will get there. This gives you tremendous advantage over those without a plan. You will know what training to get, what positions to angle for, and when to dust off the resume to keep yourself on track. While you are on your directed march, consider the random walk. Be aware of the environment around you and be opportunistic when new situations present themselves; the seemingly random call from the search firm or the associate getting funding for a new business.


6. While you are doing all this, you will be consciously be building your network. Gathering information, testing your plans, participating in training and education, joining industry and professional associations, keeping in touch with your school(s), engaging mentors(and mentoring) are all opportunities to take names, help them whenever possible, and keep in touch on your career progress. Engage professional career networks such as SENG, YPO, Vistage, and MDL Partners as appropriate.


7. All of this takes time and discipline. Thin for a moment about how much time you devote each month to looking at your investments and how much study of the financial markets you do. My rough rule of thumb should be to double that number for your career. Doing this will also help build time management and discipline skills.


8. The last step is to revise as you go. You will change and be changed by your environment. Be aware of, and respond to these changes. The skill set needed for your ultimate destination (whatever that may be)will evolve. Your ultimate destination may even disappear. Technology will further impact your career. Be flexible, perceptive, intuitive and agile, all while doing a great job.


So here is your simple eight step plan. You now know what you must do. In the real world, things may not be quite so simple but you can do it. Start with step one and take it one step at a time. Good luck and keep in touch.



Here’s a simple test. Can you answer the two most feared interview questions

Interviewer “Tell me about yourself?”

Popeye “I yam who I yam.”

Interviewer “OK, how about where do you want to be in five years?”

Popeye “I really have no idea.”

Interviewer “Well, I’m sure you’ll get there, but probably not here.”

If you can’t answer these two questions much better than this poor candidate, you’re probably in career trouble. Even if you can answer them, but the answers feel made up or sound hollow, you might want to read further.

There are many additional symptoms that might be telling you that you need to devote more time and thought to your career plan. Quite simply, most people don’t think enough about their career, and go merrily along until it’s too late.

“What did you want to be when you were growing up?”

“Not this, but I like the view from my office.”

Here are a few additional things to think about.

  • Are you motivated and energized by your work, does it bring you any sense of pleasure in what you do?
  • Do you have times where you are in a “flow” state, in command, executing effortlessly and performing at your best, fully immersed, to the point of losing track of time,
  • And learning. If you are not continually learning new skills that enhance your employability and career, you are actually falling behind.
  • If you don’t see an appropriate exit path (either internal or external) to a better position, you need to take action. Unless of course you want to keep doing the same meaningless work for the rest of your career--putting turn signals on BMWs, for example. Of course, even if you love your job and would stay forever if you could, your job, company, industry, or profession could leave you. The converse is that you would like to be in a growing company, industry or profession. Are you? The artificial intelligence and robotics industries are projected to be $70 billion and $83 billion in the next five years (Daniel Forggella, Valuing the AI Markets, Techemergence.com, March 7, 2016), and they are targeting your job.
  • If you have been passed over for promotion, interesting assignments, or core business challenges, if you are an outsider when key business decisions are made, or if you feel otherwise under-appreciated, your work may be fine, but the culture and your career may not be.
  • Your boss is not responsible for your career, you are. But, he or she should be supportive and encouraging. She should listen to your career aspirations, provide objective feedback, and put you on stretch, skill building assignments.
  • Then there is the question of mission. Do you have any sense of a personal mission, and does it inform your work and career decisions? When you come to Yogi Berra’s fork in the road, canyou take it without hesitation or angst? Does your employer have a clear sense of mission and can you buy into it? Seriously consider reading and acting on the mission chapter in CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid. (Also, by the way, an excellent Father’s Day gift)

As you commute home from work, think about these ideas. and, listen to your gut. Remember, as George Carlin said: The future will soon be a thing of the past.”

If you think it’s time to take action, stay tuned, follow and share this post. In the next post, I will outline a simple eight step action plan for taking control of your career.



Where will the next generation of CEOs come from? First a few statistics

55% of directors say their company is not or is only somewhat prepared for CEO succession. (1)

39% of companies have no identified successor and only 25% claim to have an adequate pool of candidates, while only 46% of large companies have a formal succession planning process. (2) 

A NACD (National Association of Corporate Directors) survey similarly indicated 44% of surveyed companies had no formal succession planning. (3) 

It takes an average of 89 days to fill a CEO position, (4) yet roughly 11% to 15% of large company CEOs step down every year.

It typically takes two to five years to groom a successor CEO. 

The impact of CEO succession on stock price is unclear, probably dependent on a range of additional situational factors, but there is some likelihood that volatility around succession is lower if there is a published succession planning process in place. 

At the same time, the board has increasing fiduciary, investor relations, and “prudent man rule” (sexism noted and not approved) requirements pushing them to focus on CEO succession.

The point here is that CEO succession is critical to the success of any company, yet very many companies do it poorly or not at all. As a result, when the company is casting the net for CEO candidates, they often come up short on good candidates. Partly as a result of this supply and demand imbalance, CEO salaries continue to rise and garner media attention.

There are a number of reasons for this shortfall of candidates and inadequate succession planning. First,the CEO job is incredibly complex, challenging and consuming, and rapidly becoming more so. Most people simply cannot do the job, don’t have the training or experience, or are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to take on the position.

Second, boards are faced with the difficult task of having to predict the future, to find CEOs ready for a new world, not the past one. There is also the time pressure on already overextended board members; there are “more urgent” challenges and no immediate return on time devoted to succession efforts. 

Then there are the dynamics of dealing with potentially sensitive issues with the current CEO, other board members, internal candidates and possibly investors.

At the same time, CEOs themselves may be reticent about grooming a successor. There may be situations where they want to train someone (where they are incented by the board, where they are planning to retire soon, where they want to manage their legacy, etc.). On the other hand, having a low-risk, high performance ready successor to your position does not engender warm feelings of job security and long-term tenure.

So what can be done to address this shortfall of good CEO candidates? First, boards need to focus now on CEO succession for both legal and sound business reasons. A short board agenda item to discuss takingownership and oversight of the process, establishing a timeframe, followed by assigning specific responsibility to a committee (Compensation, Governance, Ad-hoc) will start the ball rolling. 

This committee should work to clarify and integrate longer-term business strategy into the process, from which a clearer position profile can be developed. This might expand to engaging stakeholders (including the CEO) in the process. The next step is to build a talent pool of external candidates and a pipeline of internal candidates for both emergency succession (hit by truck) and longer-term planning.

This longer-term planning might best be done as part of a broader talent development initiative using the comprehensive model presented in “CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid” as a template for assessing skills and development needs and pathways.

While the board is deliberating (or not) you should take charge of your own development. You cannot assume the board, your boss, or Human Resources will have your best interests at heart. They will be focused on developing talent to fit their needs, not those of the broader business community, your employability, and value outside of the company. Take charge of your own career planning, become a student of the CEO role (in general, not just your company) again using the CEO Pyramid model. Take action, build your skills, build your network, and build your reputation.

For those of you who read my last post, this is virtually the same advice I gave to new graduates. It applies to anyone no matter where you are in your career.


1 PWC Audit Forum, May 2016

2 Larcker, David F. and Scott Saslow, “2014 Report on Senior Executive Succession and Talent Development Survey”, Institute of Executive Development and Stamford University, 2014

3 2009 NACD Public Company Governance Survey, Pg 13,14

4 Plank, Willa “The Do’s and Don’ts of CEO Succession Planning”, Wall Street Journal, April 28, 2014


Congratulations! Your son or daughter has graduated from college, one of 1,870,000 new grads. They are faced with an average of $37,000 in debt, in addition to the money, time, energy, and angst you have devoted to them.


Fortunately, they can expect the best hiring environment in years and a starting salary north of $50,000. But that salary statistic hides a disturbing fact. 43% will end up in non-college level jobs earning around $23,500 while others will earn an average of $78,500 for those jobs requiring a college degree (according NACE, the National Association of Colleges and Employers). Fortunately, you were smart enough to guide them into Petroleum Engineering (average starting salary $96,000), and they were smart enough to listen to your sage advice. 


On the off chance that neither of the above occurred, here are some thoughts on graduation gifts (other than a new car) that you can give your new grad to help them launch their career. What you and they do can mean the difference between standing in line at Chipotle’s 4,000 person hiring day to earn $21,000 per year, or a great job with an opportunity for personal growth, job security, and friendly co-workers. These, by the way,  are the three most sought after work characteristics desired by new grads (and many of the rest of us) according to a recent NACE survey. 


So what can you do to help, to improve the return on your investment, and to make sure your kids lead happy, productive lives?


First, of course, you know you have to be supportive. Try not to be judgmental and critical. The job search can be stressful enough without you adding to the stress. Help them de-stress by pointing out that the first job is just that, a first job. The average tenure for first jobs for people ages 20-24 is 18 months; for ages 25-34 it is 3 years. Suggest that they should plan on “zapping” for the first few years, moving from one job to another to gain experience, skills and perspective.


Also suggest that they take full advantage of their college career center, career fairs, and alumni network, and at any internship opportunities organized by the school. Encourage them to take a class or workshop on inventing a job-- identifying, building, and pursuing adream. Money isn’t everything, finding a passion is a great start.


Strongly encourage them to network. Offer your Rolodex, suggest they talk with favorite professors, last year’s grads, and friends, and get at leasttwo introductions from each.


If they don’t listen to you (for whatever reason, and there are many) help them find a mentor/advisor who has the necessary independence and a broader perspective than you might have. These days, many potential mentors will trade their wisdom and connections for a better understanding of the social media and technology skills that most new grads take for granted.


According to SHRM (the Society for Human Resources Management) 67% of employers are willing to negotiate the starting salary. Suggest your grad build a case for negotiating salary and practice mock negotiations. They might also read the Negotiations chapter in CEO mastering the Corporate Pyramid, and look at the salary negotiation tool at CEOpyramid.com


Help them focus particularly on building skills for the long term and building their “learning agility”. Show them the CEO Pyramid (CEOpyramid.com) and/or give them CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid so they can build a framework for their learning plan and career. (Do this, of course, after you have read it yourself, gotten promoted, and paid off their loan.) 


Point out that only 29% of employers engage employees for future opportunities (SHRM). Like you, new grads are responsible for their own career and can’t expect the company to help. In the last post, I highlighted the importance of building skills, a network and a reputation for the future. Help them find the difference between a job that is a parking lot and one that is a career accelerator.


You might even share this post with your new grad.

The World’s Best CEOs (Continued): Do the Right Thing

In the last post I asked who are the world’s best CEOs and how would you determine who are the best. I received a number of interesting comments and nominations--thanks very much!


One theme was very clear--no one suggested financial performance criteria and no one nominated someone based on financial performance alone. Virtually everyone highlighted the importance of personal characteristics and ethical behavior: pay a living wage so families can live on one income; possibly pay some employees more than the CEO; demonstrate character and integrity; the best leaders have a personal impact and social impact on customers and employees, sustainability and diversity; all while mastering capital allocation. (John Shaw of Shaw Communications was nominated because he has guided the company from a cable business to a network and content provider and started the video on demand service Shomi).


The best CEOs will work to really understand all the stakeholders (employees, NGOs, governments, customers, the general public, partners and suppliers by reaching out, listening, engaging and fully understanding (not necessarily agreeing or acquiescing) but negotiating. They deeply integrate engagement as part of the core business to determine how the purpose of their company benefits society. The best CEOs focus on both profit and purpose, and combine what makes business sense and social sense.


If CEOs don’t do so now, in this environment greater scrutiny, transparency, and instant communications, they can quickly lose credibility, trust and investor value. Look at the lasting impact on BP, wall street firms after the financial crisis, and more recently Volkswagen. 


On the positive side, companies and CEOs that work to do the right thing, not just “greenwash”, can be more successful. Two CEOs who were nominated by readers are Paul Polman of Unilever for his focus on improving nutritional value of their company products, and Eldar Saetre of Statoil for his focus on low carbon emission technologies, sustainability and safety. Most recently, Hamedi Ulukaya has been in the news for his plan to give 10% of the equity in his company to company employees.


Doing the right thing is not always simple and not often clearcut. The chapters on Ethics and Mission in “CEO Mastering the Corporate Pyramid” can provide useful guidance for executives, CEOs and aspiring CEOs.  Doing the right thing is clearly a necessary goal for anyone who wants to be considered one of the world’s best CEOs.


Additional comments and sharing this post are very much appreciated!