CEO? No thanks


The pay, perks and prestige of being the top dog seems to be losing its gloss as more than half of business leaders around the world say they would turn down the chance to be a CEO - with the impact of the role on their work-life balance the major reason for shunning the top job.

A new global study by Burson-Marsteller and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has found that 54 per cent of influential business figures would not want to be CEO if given the choice.

The 2005 CEO Capital research quizzed 685 so-called 'business influentials' - CEOs, senior executives, financial analysts, business media and government officials in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

It found that the highest levels of CEO disillusionment are in North America and Europe, where 64 per cent and 60 per cent would decline a CEO job offer.

Senior figure in Asia/Pacific are equally divided about seeking the CEO role, with half prepared to turn it down, while Latin Americans are the least negative, with only a quarter not keen on inheriting the corner office.

The most startling finding from the research is the degree to which the work-life balance agenda is now influencing the thinking of even the most career-driven of executives.

The overriding factor leading people to choose not to be CEO is the impact of the job on their work-life balance

The overriding factor leading people to choose not to be CEO is the impact of the job on their work-life balance, a factor cited by almost two-thirds of those surveyed.

Other barriers cited are the tyranny of quarterly earnings, persistent stress and intense public scrutiny.

The research also revealed that potential CEOs are far less phased by the actual pressures of running a business – regulatory oversight, cost-cutting, talent development, stakeholder demands and critical media.

But at the same time, the job is becoming increasingly tenuous, with the rate of CEO departures hitting record levels. Among U.S. companies there have been 1100 changes at the top already this year, nearly double the number for 2004, while a Fortune 1000 CEO departs every two business days.

"CEOs today are increasingly challenged by time zones, global markets, unpredictable crises and an expanding portfolio of stakeholders demanding attention," said Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, the study's architect.

"Not until companies train the next generation of leaders to better balance work-life pressures will executives clamour for the top job."

Although CEO pay, perks and prestige dominate headlines worldwide, they emerged as among the least compelling reasons for wanting to be CEO.

Instead, potential CEOs are attracted by the opportunity for complex problem-solving, the ability to have a personal impact on the business and satisfaction of seeing their ideas implemented.

"All businesses today are in dire need of talented, ethical and credible leaders," said Burson-Marsteller's Patrick Ford, "but the reluctance of many senior executives to accept the top slot will continue to impact efforts to restore overall trust in companies across the globe"

"The demand for leaders continues to expand. Continued success in global commerce lies in the willingness of upcoming qualified CEOs to take calculated risks, roll up their sleeves and execute on the details."