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From CHRO to CEO: Chief Human Resources Officers Make Great CEOs

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

from chro to ceo eskill

Significant lip service is paid to talent as a company’s greatest resource, but in reality, those who work most closely to ensure this resource is cared for are viewed as almost a necessary evil. They frequently struggle to have a voice when important company decisions are made, but this is changing. More companies are choosing to include a Chief Human Resources Officer in the driver’s seat, which is great news for workers.

Moving Human Resources from the back office and into the “C-suite”

Swiss executive recruiter Ellie Filler began noticing significant changes in the roles of CHROs as early as 15 years ago. To explore this phenomenon, she teamed up with American professor Dave Ulrich from the University of Michigan. Ulrich is a leading consultant on organization and talent issues.

Through comparing various executive roles within large corporate structures, they made a surprising discovery: CHROs possessed behaviors and management skills that were more closely linked with CEOs than with any other group, except for COOs, whose jobs often overlap with the CEO. They also found that these executive-level HR officers were among the top paid employees, were often reporting directly to the CEO, and frequently were seen as key advisors.

What makes a CHRO a good candidate for a CEO position?

As the modern office environment places increasing value on concepts surrounding talent acquisition and development, organizational structure, and the development of healthy corporate culture, these experienced workplace engineers are becoming more valuable. Should lifelong HR executives start polishing their resumes for a move to the corner office? Yes, provided they have the wide-ranging management experience the job requires.

  • Running an HR department is seen as an excellent developmental step.
  • Candidates should possess financial and technical management experience, both in their educational and professional backgrounds.
  • HR professionals should branch out earlier in their career, as corporate lingering can make the move more difficult.

High-profile examples of execs who have made the jump

Both GM and XEROX have had CEOs who spent time in their HR departments, and both were female. Since a much higher percentage of executives in HR are female than any other department studied, there is some indication that this approach might especially benefit women striving for the coveted top seat.

Filler’s conclusions were clear: “If you don’t have the right people in the right places – the right talent strategy, the right team dynamics, the right culture – and if you don’t proactively manage how an organization works from a culture and a people perspective, you’re on a serious path to disaster.” This insight forecasts a bright future for CHROs looking to move up in the corporate world.

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell


Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

3 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Alexandra November, 16, 2015

    An organization can’t achieve success without great talent, and in charge of that is the CHRO’s department. You can’t plan any development without insight from CHROs, which is why they have become important board partners. Having a CHRO as a CEO could only mean great things. 

  • Mackenzie T. November, 18, 2015

    With the wide range of skills currently required to manage HR functions in an organization, companies are recognizing that HR is a perfect training ground for future CEOs. With knowledge of management and finance, there is no reason why a CHRO shouldn’t become a CEO.

  • Zoe M. November, 19, 2015

    Organizations are changing, and the focus has shifted toward the talent as driving them to success. However, not all CHROs will turn into great CEOs. They may have “people skills,” but there is more to a CEO position. Those who aspire to such a position should extend their knowledge and experience to that of a COO as well. 


Guest November, 19, 2015