The year in leadership: Everything to know about the most recent crop of leaders to score top CEO jobs

by Anastasia Kayla

In June of 2019, I wrote a story titled “More People Named Jeffrey Got Top CEO Jobs Than Women Last Year.” The piece lamented that of the 23 new leaders that America’s 250 largest companies chose last year, just one––Michelle Gass of Kohl’s––was a woman, so the lone female was outnumbered not just by two gents named Jeffrey but another two named Michael. In 2019, that dismal picture brightened a bit, launching what finally looks like a durable shift to promoting the best talent, regardless of gender. The S&P 250 placed four women in the top job, and while that number may sound low, it’s almost half as many as reached the pinnacle over the previous five years.

That trend is highlighted in The New CEO Report, a yearly study that examines the backgrounds of the leaders who ascended during the prior year to lead S&P 250 companies and pinpoints qualities that corporate boards prize most. It’s compiled by Feigen Advisors, the firm headed by America’s leading coach for CEOs, Marc Feigen. In previous stories, I’ve nicknamed Feigen “the CEO Whisperer.” Over the years, he’s guided 30 CEOs of leading global companies, either as heirs apparent or after they’ve taken charge, including Bob Iger of Disney and Mark Fields of Ford, and today advises the heads of a dozen members of the Fortune 500.

The 2019 study shows that corporate boards are following well-worn practices, while at the same quickening their push in new directions, notably in promoting women, putting global experience near the top of their checklists, and choosing deep technical knowledge over charisma. Here’s a review of the findings, along with running commentary from Feigen, whose many hours in the boardroom provide insights into the traditional—and new—ways that directors think about succession.

Boards favor insiders, and that’s a good thing

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