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The Real Road to the C-Suite

Shoma Chatterjee
Shoma Chatterjee

There’s an image many of us have of who makes it to the C-Suite: Think square-jawed, 6’4″ tall, Ivy League educated, followed a linear road to success. No mistakes. Right?

Well, not exactly. According to a study of 18,000 executives who were finalists for C-Suite positions, conducted by GhSMART, a New York-based executive advisory firm: 

  • 45 percent got there after surviving at least one big career blow-up.
  • 33 percent took a giant leap that they didn’t feel ready for. “They went through all the imposter syndrome gremlins that said, ‘You shouldn’t do it.’ But somehow, they did; and that was the pivotal moment for them,” said GhSMART’s Shoma Chatterjee.
  • 66 percent started small—beginning their own business, or taking on a project in another country or region where they could see a business through end-to-end.

C-Suite finalists also tend to have four behaviors in common, according to the study:

  1. They’re exceptionally decisive.
  2. They are fiercely consistent.
  3. They engage for impact—meaning, they put what is best for the company above being liked.
  4. They are adaptable.

So, if this is where you want to go, how do you choose the right opportunity—recognizing that taking some big risks is often part of the journey?

Joanne Ryder
Joanne Ryder

Here’s how Joanne Ryder, EVP and chief administrative officer at Beneficial Bank, and a member the board of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, weighs the decision:

“My goal is to be the CEO of a company one day. I’m fascinated by how companies work, and how they operate, and so whenever I’m approached for a new opportunity, or if I’m thinking about a new opportunity, I always take it back through that filter of my mission,” she says.

“If the opportunity will allow me to grow and develop skills and experience to achieve my mission of becoming a CEO one day, then I typically would take the opportunity. If not, then I simply say, ‘No.’ And if I’m confused, or I’m not sure, I generally would go and consult what I like to call my own board of directors. They haven’t let me down,” she added.


Shoma Chatterjee and Joanne Ryder shared their comments at the 2018 Pennsylvania Conference for Women session “Corner Office Success: How to Accelerate Your Career Trajectory.” You can listen to the whole session here.

More from the July 2019 Newsletter

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