One of my best friends recently called me to tell me he accepted an incredible job. The company found him on LinkedIn, flew him across the country to their headquarters, had a car and driver for him, and offered him a great package with huge upside; it’s an awesome opportunity and I’m extremely excited for him. After I finished talking with him I explained this awesome opportunity to Mary and she excitedly (and half jokingly) asked “Why can’t you find an awesome opportunity like that?”
Without skipping a beat or even giving thought to it, I responded and said “because he has a speciality that he is very good at, I don’t have a specialty, my function is currently in Finance, but my specialty is general business.”
My comment caught me off guard; it just flowed out of my mouth without thought and led me to ask the question: What happened to generalists?
In college we were taught to pick a major, which will turn into a career with a tract we should stay on, which will lead us to success as a CFO, CMO, CPO, or COO, then maybe a CEO. CEO was the pinnacle, but only after we achieved the specialized status of another C level position.
There is something wrong with that; those paths are so specialized how do they learn enough about other areas to become the CEO? A Chief Executive Officer should know a great deal about finance, marketing, operations, hr, and sales; and he should specialize in none of it! The CEO should be a TRUE General Manager of the corporation; and if they are not then you should ask who is running the company?
I recently found a very interesting post from the Harvard Business Review entitled Bring Back the General Manager that hammers this point home. In the post the author discusses exactly what I’m talking about and he makes the shocking statement that “for many chief executives I’ve recently worked with, the first real GM job that they had was CEO!”
I find that quote shocking, but I guess it isn’t that surprising when I think about it. Recently in a conversation with my boss (who is clearly on the CFO track), he talked about how all of us in Finance want to be the CFO; then he saw the look on my face and asked “wait? You don’t want to be the CFO?”
“No,” I responded, “I have no desire to be the CFO; I would be miserable. I will be a CEO.” I don’t know how I’m going to get there yet, but you can bet it’ll be an interesting path.