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

By PETER CAPPELLI
Wed, Jan 17, 2024 9:29amGrey Clock 5 min

Here’s the face of the new C-suite: older, with broader industry experience and increasingly female.

These are some of the most surprising findings my colleagues and I have uncovered about how C-suite leaders have changed over time. My co-researchers—Rocio Bonet and Monika Hamori—and I have been tracking the attributes of the leaders of the world’s biggest corporations, the Fortune 100, since 1980, when many of the key forces shaping business today began.

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. For instance, executives change jobs a lot more than in the past and don’t stick with one employer or industry for their entire careers. On the other hand, C-suite executives do less job hopping later in their careers after moving around a lot early on. In many ways, there is more stability in the corporate world now than we would ever imagine from the tales of intrigue within individual executive suites.

Here is a closer look at our key findings

  • The youth movement is over. Our study—which will appear in the California Management Review—found that C-suite executives are getting older. It’s a reversal of a long trend: Executives were getting younger after 1980—with the average age falling six years to 51 in 2001—but now the top leaders are back to where they were in 1980: 57 years old on average.
  • Executives are doing more job hopping. The number of different companies where executives worked, including their current job, rose each decade—to 3.3 in 2021 from 2.2 in 1980, a 50% rise. Likewise, the number of years the executives worked elsewhere before joining their current company jumped by a third, to 15 years, over that same period. As a result, more outsiders are being hired directly into executive roles. In 1980, 9% of C-suite executives fit that bill. In 2021, 26% did.
  • Executives are less likely to be lifers. The percentage of executives who spent their whole careers at one company dropped in every period in our data, especially between 2011 and 2021. Now just under 20% of executives are lifers, less than half the level in 1980 and about the same as in 1900. There is a big exception to that finding, though: legacy companies. These 17 companies—which have been in the Fortune 100 since 1980—have more than twice the percentage of lifers as the others.
  • Eventually, executives do settle down. While executives may move around more early in their careers, when they do settle on a job, they stay there longer. Average tenure in executive roles is now back up to where it was in 1980, close to four years, after falling to two years in 2001. This may have to do with tech companies: As the industry has matured, it has become more stable. (At legacy companies, though, average tenure has dipped to three years from four.)
  • They have broader experience. Executives used to get training in-house in various aspects of the business: operations, finance, logistics and so forth. It was a way for companies to train potential leaders from within, especially important since there weren’t a lot of outside hires for executive roles. Now companies are seeking people from outside who have experience in different niches, and putting them in roles that fill those niches. In 1980, the average top executive had worked in 1.4 different industries. Now that figure is 2.3.
  • Legacy companies aren’t exempt from big changes. The C-suite at legacy companies looks more traditional—that is, more like 1980—than it does at other companies. Even so, these older corporations have seen some big changes.
    First off, let’s look at the traditional side. Not only do legacy C-suites have a higher percentage of lifers, these executives get more training in-house and have less experience in other industries. At the same time, though, legacy executives have been affected by some trends that make them look different than in 1980. The executives have less tenure, as we have seen, and outsiders hired directly into executive roles went to 18% in 2021 from 1% in 1980.
  • More executives come from finance. Financial markets and investor interests took on a greater role after the 1980s, and that change is reflected in the proportion of executives with a finance background: The figure has been above 30% since 2001, up from 19% in 1980.
  • More executives have law degrees. The proportion of executives with a law degree has risen, going to 17% in 2001 from 11% in 1980, and staying near that higher level in 2021. This may be a response to increased corporate regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank that drive the need for more legal expertise in the C-suite.
  • Business degrees aren’t as prevalent as you would think. For years, there was huge growth in M.B.A. graduates in the overall population—63% from 2001 to 2011. But the growth rate of M.B.A.s in Fortune 100 C-suites was considerably lower: just 6%. The period from 2011 to 2021 had even less upward movement. The number of M.B.A.s in the C-suite rose by just 4% over those years, as M.B.A. graduates in general rose by 8% during that time.
  • Ivies are still influential. Even as the growth rate of M.B.A.s goes down overall in the C-suite, the dominance of graduates from Ivy League business schools in the executive ranks remains strong. Ivy League M.B.A. programs represent less than 1% of all such programs in the U.S. Meanwhile, as of 2021, 35% of C-suite executives had M.B.A.s, and 23% of those got the degree in the Ivy League. That’s in the same ballpark as 2001, when 30% of C-Suite executives had M.B.A.s, and 20% of those were from Ivies.
    A couple of factors may be at play: These top jobs have become more attractive for elite graduates as executive pay has soared—and more outside hiring by companies has made it possible for M.B.A.s to make lateral moves that offer a chance at the C-suite. Previously, graduates of those elite programs disproportionately moved into higher-paying investment careers.
  • Women are landing more executive jobs. The proportion of women in Fortune 100 top executive ranks rose from roughly zero in 1980 to 12% in 2001 and 18% in 2011, by about the same percentage as the proportion of women in all management jobs. After that, the proportion of women in these top executive ranks rose to 28% of jobs in 2021—while women executives in the overall ranks of management rose to just 18% of jobs from 17%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This indicates that it did not take an increase in the pipeline of women managers to add more to the executive suite.
  • Women are also advancing quicker than men. Women executives got to executive jobs faster than their male counterparts—four years faster into their careers in 2001, slowing to 1.5 years faster in 2021.
  • Foreign-born executives have also made gains. Something similar happened with executives from outside the U.S. Until this past decade, the percentage of foreign-born people in top executive ranks—2% in 1980, for instance—had lagged behind the proportion of foreign-born people in the U.S. as a whole. Now, foreign-born people make up 15% of top executive ranks—larger than their proportion in the overall population. This increase, though, doesn’t seem to be associated with any greater globalization of top corporations: Instead, it may reflect an increase in foreign-born students in elite U.S. postgraduate programs.

Peter Cappelli is a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Our Least Important Asset: Why the Relentless Focus on Finance and Accounting is Bad for Business and Employees.”



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Retailers see nascent sales boost fuelled by people switching to smaller sizes; ‘not something we’ve seen before’

By SUZANNE KAPNER
Mon, Jun 17, 2024 4 min

Apparel retailers are discovering that weight loss is their gain.

While blockbuster drugs like Ozempic that lead to significant weight loss have dented demand for diet plans and caused food companies to prepare for people eating less, clothing sellers are finding that millions of slimmed-down Americans want to buy new clothes.

The newly svelte aren’t just restocking their wardrobes, many are also gravitating to more body-hugging shapes and risqué designs, according to industry executives and shoppers. Some brands are responding by replacing zippers with adjustable corsets and adding more sheer looks.

The nascent downsizing is happening across brands and types of garments. Industry executives said that they can’t be certain weight-loss medicine is the cause, but added that the shift is unlike anything they have seen. It is also an about-face from recent years, when many retailers rushed to add larger sizes to accommodate Americans’ growing girth.

About 5% of Lafayette 148’s customers are buying new outfits because they have lost weight, often replacing their size 12 clothes with size 6 or 8, according to Deirdre Quinn , the brand’s chief executive. The benefit is twofold; in addition to boosting sales, Lafayette 148 is saving money because smaller sizes use less fabric, Quinn said.

More customers of clothing rental company Rent the Runway are switching to smaller sizes than at any time in the past 15 years, said Jennifer Hyman , co-founder and CEO. These customers are also showing more of a willingness to experiment with different styles such as cutouts and other body-baring features. “When you are more comfortable in your skin, you are more willing to try edgier looks,” she said.

For Maggie Rezek, getting dressed used to be about hiding her extra weight in oversize shirts and baggy pants. Since she lost 60 pounds on semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, the 32-year-old, who handles marketing for a beauty salon, has splurged on a new wardrobe. Now, her staples consist of crop tops and jean shorts. She has traded in her sneakers for kitten heels. She even documents her outfits on social media.

“Before, I was insecure about my body,” said Rezek, who lives in Indianapolis. “Now, I feel like I fit better in clothes. That gives me the confidence to dress up and be more stylish.”

Some 15.5 million people, or 6% of U.S. adults, say they have tried injectable weight loss drugs to slim down, according to a survey of more than 5,500 Americans conducted in March by polling company Gallup. Nearly three-quarters of current users said the drugs—a class known as GLP-1 that were originally developed to treat diabetes—are effective or extremely effective in helping them shed pounds.

Weight-loss drugs don’t work for everyone and the cost can sometimes exceed $1,000 a month, limiting the market. The full price isn’t always covered by insurance. Moreover, people struggle to keep the weight off once they stop using the drugs.

Still, some companies expect the market for these drugs will be big enough that they are shifting course. WW International , formerly known as Weight Watchers, acquired a subscription service that offers telehealth visits with doctors who can prescribe drugs like Ozempic. Nestlé is introducing a new food line this year designed for people taking weight-loss medication.

Clothing companies could use a boost. Apparel sales fell 4% in the 12 months that ended in April compared with the same period a year earlier, according to market research firm Circana, as people give priority to their spending on necessities.

Coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Amarra, which sells evening gowns and other formal wear in 800 retailers in the U.S., Canada and Australia, saw increased demand for larger sizes. Now, that trend has reversed.

“Over the past year, our retailers have been telling us they need smaller sizes,” said Abhi Madan, Amarra’s co-founder and creative director. Amarra, which is based in Freehold, N.J., has added sizes as small as 000. He says he is also selling more sizes in the 0-8 range and fewer in the plus-size range of 18-24.

Madan said the shift is changing the way Amarra designs dresses. It is replacing zippers with lace-up corsets, which can more easily accommodate shifting weights because the laces can be tightened or loosened. It is also adding more sheer side panels that give a figure-hugging look.

AllStar Logo, which sells polo shirts, fleece jackets and other gear to large companies, has seen demand for its largest sizes fall by half over the past year, according to Edmond Moss , its sales director.

“We used to sell a lot of fleece jackets in extra, extra large,” Moss said. “Now everything has gone down by at least one size.”

Sales of the three largest sizes of women’s button-down shirts fell 10.9% in the first three months of 2024 compared with the same period in 2022 at a dozen brands, according to Impact Analytics, which helps retailers manage their inventory and size allocations.

Sales of those same button-down shirts in the three smallest sizes grew 12.1% over that period. Impact Analytics analysed purchases in physical stores located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It focused its research on this area because it has the highest concentration of individuals in New York City taking these drugs specifically for weight loss, according to market research firm Trilliant Health.

A similar trend played out for women’s dresses and sweaters, as well as men’s polo shirts, sweatshirts and T-shirts, according to Impact Analytics.

Prashant Agrawal , Impact Analytics’ founder and CEO, said it wasn’t possible to know if the size changes resulted from people losing weight or a shift in clothing styles, but added that such a pronounced shift is unusual. “It’s not something we’ve seen before,” he said.

Some executives are worried that the shift could reduce demand for plus-size clothes.

“I’m trying to figure out what we have to worry about in the future,” said Doug Wood , the chief executive of clothing retailer Tommy Bahama, noting that as more people lose weight it could hurt sales of its “Big & Tall” collection designed for very large men.

Jillian Sterba went from a size 6 to a size 10 after the birth of her child. When the weight didn’t come off with diet and exercise, she started injections of semaglutide in October. Since then, Sterba, who is 36 and lives in Austin, has lost 35 pounds. She is now a size 4. “Almost half my clothes are not wearable,” she said.

She bought new jeans, tops, bras and underwear. “I had been wearing flowy tops before but now I’m wearing fitted shirts,” she said. Still, Sterba said she is keeping 80% of her old clothes just in case she gains back the weight.