How Comms pros can become CEOs


How Comms pros can become CEOs

Can today’s Corporate Affairs Director be tomorrow’s CEO?

The short answer is yes. Read on for advice from former Corporate Communications Directors turned CEOs to help you be a credible contender.

BroomeYasar study

I’ve got news of a report focusing on a series of frank and insightful interviews with inspiring chiefs including John Fallon, Chief Executive, Pearson, Sue Clark, Managing Director, SABMiller Europe and Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive Macmillan Cancer Support.

They have shared advice to help you turn this ambition into reality.

They’ve all transitioned successfully to CEO and equivalent senior management roles.

Plus I’ve got some tips to share with you if you wish your career path to lead from Comms to CEO.

David BroomeFrom Corporate Affairs to Corporate Leader
I caught up with David Broome, Managing Partner of Broome Yasar Partnership, Global Executive Recruiters in Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations, to hear about the study.

David says: “Our report is deliberately broad, including discussions with leaders across major companies and public and third sector organisations, as well as trade associations.

“We’ve also considered the alternative transition from corporate affairs to boardroom through non-executive positions – still a rare route but one that is expected to broaden as boards seek increasing diversity and cross-sector knowledge.

“The profiled leaders offer advice on how corporate affairs professionals can ensure they are credible contenders for broader leadership positions. Together, we explore the skills they’ve developed to reach the top”

It is not common to envisage corporate affairs professionals as future leaders. Communications is still often regarded as lacking a direct link to revenue generation and incapable of contributing to broader business decisions.

The leaders featured in the report are:

  • John Fallon, Chief Executive, Pearson
  • Sue Clark, Managing Director, SABMiller Europe
  • Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Simon Walker, Director General, Institute of Directors
  • Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Parliamentary Under secretary of state, department for Business, innovation and skills (jointly with the department of Culture, media and sport) and minister for intellectual property
  • Phil Wilson-Brown, Managing Director, MORE THAN
  • Nick Von Schirnding, Chief Executive, Carajas Copper Company
  • Claire Jenkins, Non-executive director, Sports Direct International
  • Simon Lewis, OBE, Chief Executive, Association for Financial Markets in Europe
  • Ken Cronin, Chief Executive, United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas.

Download the report for free. It states:

In the search for leaders with the depth and diversity of skills needed to run our largest, most important companies, industries and indeed the Government, communications and corporate affairs departments have not been considered as fruitful places to explore.

There are some valid reasons for this historical oversight. In past decades, the communications marketplace was dominated by specialist consultancies, with few signficant in-house roles as
a route into senior management.

It was even rarer for a corporate affairs professional to have a seat on a corporate executive committee. Other functions such as Finance were viewed as a more natural route, due to their ability to dissect operations, apply financial acumen and direct resources.

Lacking direct attribution to corporate successes and commercial benefit, corporate affairs was overlooked as a source of talent by executives considering succession planning. It was consequently ignored by headhunters looking to fill senior management roles.

So what do the featured CEOs think and what’s their advice?

Standout quotes for me include:

“Have faith that you can learn from everything you do – including your mistakes. No one gets to the top without making mistakes” – Claire Jenkins

“If you are obsessed about status you won’t develop your professional CV, it should be all about the job you eventually want” – Phil Wilson-Brown

“People will give you a certain timeframe to work out if you know what you are talking about. If you pass, it is an empowered role. If not, you won’t get a second chance” – Nick Von Schirnding

“Every organisation is competing for their share of voice, if you can communicate a sense of purpose it is a distinguishing talent” – Simon Lewis

Advice from the report for how to move from Comms to CEO:

YB Partnership


Further reading: You can download the whole report for free online.

Want to know more? Watch this overview of the report from Broome Yasar Partnership:

What do you think of the report? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Further reading about careers via All Things IC
Why should you consider a career in internal comms?
What people want in a leader
Ten new trends in communication
Do you have the right skills to do your job?

Want to learn more about internal communication?
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If you work for a nonprofit organisation, use the code NFP20 to save 20 per cent off. See the Masterclasses website to find out more and save your place.

What is it like to attend a Masterclass? Read Advita Patel’s blog to find out.

See the All Things IC Masterclasses website for full information and to save your space.

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Found this article useful? Why not share it on.

Post author: Rachel Miller
First published on the All Things IC blog 6 July 2016. Updated January 2017.


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