The Life Cycle of a CEO

The Myths and Truths of How Leaders Succeed

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By Claudius A Hildebrand

By Robert J Stark

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Ground-breaking research into how CEOs succeed by navigating the storms and predictable crises of corporate life.

Claudius Hildebrand and Robert Stark, two key figures at Spencer Stuart, the world’s most influential executive search firm, combine unprecedented research—analyzing the individual performance of every twenty-first century CEO of the S&P 500 and accompanying macroeconomic and industry cycles—with 100 in-depth interviews to reveal the distinctive life cycle of a CEO. These life cycles are predictable passages of headwinds and tailwinds that leaders must face at each stage of their tenure, from the day they walk through the door till the day they walk out. Hildebrand and Stark reveal how successful CEOs navigate these cycles by developing fresh skills and strategies needed for each distinct passage.

As captains of organizations crucial to the economic foundation of our society, CEOs have a critical role to play. But our understanding of why some drive phenomenal innovation and growth and others quickly falter is clouded by myths and caricatures perpetrated by the media, Wall Street, political and social commentators: the bewildered rookie; the rock star who can do no wrong; the corporate savior, parachuting in to restore former glory; the treacherous villain out to destroy the planet or exploit people.

Hildebrand and Stark break through these myths and provide insight into how those who thrive push themselves to evolve and master skills for meeting the challenges their companies face, and how they navigate the inevitable personal and organizational crises of corporate life as performance waxes and wanes. 

This invaluable roadmap for personal growth yields insight needed for navigating crises such as: criticism by stakeholders; when leaders are at the greatest risk of stagnation and firing; and when aversion to risk is likely to turn into a weakness. It provides the foundation for both rookies and seasoned leaders to gain self-insight and self-confidence and unlock both higher individual and corporate performance.
 
 
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  • “I have few regrets, but I wish I would have had a copy of The Life Cycle of a CEO before I onboarded as CEO in 2020. Now, starting my fifth year, I’m so glad I have a copy of this deeply researched book full of actionable and helpful tips. A must-read for incoming and current CEOs.”
     
    Carol Tomé, CEO, UPS
  • “The most successful CEOs can absorb data and process it to adapt quickly in an always-changing, competitive landscape. In The Life Cycle of a CEO, Claudius A. Hildebrand and Robert J. Stark offer both new and established leaders insights into how some of the most formidable CEOs of this generation have built and grown businesses, faced challenges, and managed crises—all of which are critical to master during a CEO’s tenure.”
     
    Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and cofounder, Blackstone
  • “An essential read for anyone aspiring to understand the profound and evolving challenges of top corporate leadership. Hildebrand and Stark masterfully dissect the myths surrounding CEOs, presenting a rich analysis based on comprehensive research and interviews. This book offers invaluable insights into the stages of a CEO’s tenure, providing a groundbreaking roadmap for success and resilience in the highest echelons of business. It’s a definitive guide for leaders seeking to navigate the complexities of their role with wisdom and adaptability.”
     
    Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
  • The Life Cycle of a CEO offers both inspirational flag-planting and road-building lessons toward excellence in all phases of a CEO’s journey. Hildebrand and Stark bring unparalleled analysis to a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data, weaving stories and examples into a compelling narrative that I wish I had when I stepped into the role. A critical addition to the CEO leadership literature.”
     
    Shantanu Narayen, chair and CEO, Adobe
  • Hildebrand and Stark have masterfully captured the essence of the CEO journey and provide a map through the terrain of leadership. It’s an essential read for any leader committed to navigating their journey with insight and foresight.”
     
    Roger Ferguson, former president and CEO, TIAA
  • The Life Cycle of a CEO offers a compelling framework that mirrors many of the pivotal moments I’ve experienced. Every chapter brims with actionable strategies to overcome the inherent obstacles to leadership.”
     
    Darren Walker, president, Ford Foundation
  • “We talk about the first hundred days, but what happens next? In their essential book, Hildebrand and Stark masterfully combine the art of storytelling and science of data to illuminate the challenges and triumphs of a CEO’s journey from novice to elder. A must-read for current and aspiring leaders alike.”
     
    Herminia Ibarra, Charles Handy Professor of Organizational Behavior, London Business School
  • “A groundbreaking exploration of corporate leadership that challenges conventional wisdom with rigorous analysis and compelling narratives. Hildebrand and Stark dismantle myths surrounding the ‘omnipotent’ CEO, instead offering a human-centered perspective on the challenges executives truly face, as well as the pivotal moments that can create career-changing growth. An essential read for anyone interested in understanding the realities of leadership at the highest levels.”
     
    Hubert Joly, former CEO, Best Buy; senior lecturer, Harvard Business School; and author of The Heart of Business
  • “Effective leadership requires adaptability, vision, and regular reflection—lessons I’ve learned in my own career leading large organizations. The Life Cycle of a CEO leverages thorough research and rich storytelling to bring to life the different stages of a CEO’s journey, making clear that the throughline for success is growth and transformation.”
     
    Chris Nassetta, president and CEO, Hilton Worldwide
  • The Life Cycle of a CEOrevolutionizes our understanding of what it takes to lead and changes the conversation around CEO success. It is a compelling call to action for leaders at all levels to rethink their approach to leadership and personal growth in service of their organizations.”
     
    Ram Charan, global advisor to CEOs and corporate boards, and coauthor of Execution
  • “In our work with the world’s top CEOs, we’ve seen firsthand the complex challenges leaders face at each stage of their tenure. The Life Cycle of a CEO provides an invaluable roadmap, backed by robust data and rich insights from an impressive array of chief executives. This is a must-read for any CEO looking to beat the odds and achieve sustained success.”
     
    Scott Osman and Jacquelyn Lane, 100 Coaches Agency
  • “In this groundbreaking book, Hildebrand and Stark have brilliantly described the stages of the CEO journey. Critically, they have highlighted an essential skill for success through this cycle—the ability to keep learning and adapting. Their insights and concrete advice will have a profound impact on CEO performance, and the book will become required reading for executives in any role thinking about how to maximize the impact of their leadership.”
     
    Tim Welsh, vice chair, Consumer and Business Banking, US Bancorp
  • “This an important work for the many executives, CEOs, and board members who are involved in the development, selection, and coaching of CEOs. Every situation is different, but the book provides an invaluable framework and perspective to guide you. An essential read.”
     
    Nigel Travis, former CEO, Dunkin’ Brands
  • “A terrific study of attributes needed in a successful CEO, especially over time. I really like the concept of personal evolution. It’s essential for CEO success, and the book provides a great roadmap.”
     
    David Cote, former CEO, Honeywell
  • “A must-read for C-suite executives, CEOs, and corporate board directors. Based on profound research, including a captivating collection of stories from luminaries like Ajay Banga, Indra Nooyi, and Chris Nassetta, the book offers a treasure trove of insights into the intricacies of the CEO journey. Hildebrand and Stark explore the dynamic stages of leadership—from the initial boom in performance to the art of leaving a legacy—while highlighting the crucial importance of forging powerful board relationships and debunking common myths. I’ve learned the critical importance of identifying the early signs of stagnation, implementing strategic pivots, and the unique pressures faced by leaders in different organizational contexts, such as private equity versus public companies.”
    Sheena Iyengar, S.T. Lee Professor, Columbia Business School, and author of The Art of Choosing
  • “By drawing on systematic data on the careers and performance of over 2000 CEOs and framing the challenges and opportunities of the CEO role in terms of a life cycle, Hildebrand and Stark have laid out a powerful roadmap to guide CEOs and aspiring CEOs in realizing their goals and objectives. The book is an effective antidote to the all-too-common mythologizing of the CEO role based on extreme, outlier cases. As such, the authors have performed a real service not only for those who occupy the position at the top of the organization chart, but also for all those individuals who have the good fortune to work for corporate leaders who take to heart the insight and inspiration that this work provides.”
     
    Joel Podolny, CEO, Honor Education, and former dean, Yale School of Management

On Sale
Oct 22, 2024
Page Count
320 pages
Publisher
PublicAffairs
ISBN-13
9781541702820

Claudius A Hildebrand

About the Author

Claudius A. Hildebrand leads Spencer Stuart’s CEO Analytics and is a core member of the firm’s CEO Practice and Leadership Advisory Services. A regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, his work is frequently cited in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes, and the Financial Times. His work on mindsets and social networks won “Best Article” by the Academy of Management.

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Robert J Stark

About the Author

Robert J. Stark co-leads Spencer Stuart’s CEO Succession practice where he leverages more than twenty-five years of executive assessment, leadership development, and coaching experience to discover capabilities of executive talent and accelerate their growth. His work has been published in the Harvard Business Review.

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