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Dear friends,

There were times when the economy was protected, markets were monopoly, the same products were enjoying the market for years and years , it was the sellers market. The finance heads were appointed in many companies as CEOs as what mattered most was tight financial control, cost saving, and administration. The production capacities were to be increased to meet the ever increasing demand, unions were strong with their bargaining power and so on. The new generation may not be aware of those days, but many of senior persons know.

Today, with globalization and liberalization going strong in India, the competence and innovation of people becoming critical for the success of the business, and HR playing significant role in shaping the competencies and innovation in organization,

Will the HR Heads eventually become the CEOs widely?

Is HR preparing its incumbents for CEO position?

Will the HR professionals make themselves ready / fit for taking up the whole buisness of the organization on their heads?

Is the HR community ready to take up this challenge / opportunity?


From India, Bangalore
Hi Jeevan,
Its gud question. HR may become CEO. No questuion of doubt but I don't know right now how many HR are as CEO??? From my point of view, HR must be business oriented bze company will set up/ run HR dept if business is in existence.

From India, Bangalore
hi jeevan,
defenetly its good question and hr may be CEO of the organisation but where as u mentioned as per the globalisation and leberalisations he wshould he/she should have knowledge about financial deals as well as other out soursing things....................,

Good issue that you have raised Jeevan.

in fact there is no reason why a HR professional should not bceome a CEO provided HR moves away from a narrow functional specialization and take an interest in broader issues in a strategic direction.

It has been a common complaint that HR is not interested or have not received a sufficient grounding on Finanacial skills etc which are essential as a CEO.

Here is an interview Austrlian CEO forum had with Don Matthews, a person from HR who became a CEO which might give some good insights.

Coming up through the HR function to CEO is an unusual career path. What do you believe were the strengths and weaknesses of this background in terms of preparing you for the CEO role?

Don Matthews: It is quite unusual, and, in my case, I did have some non-HR experience as well, but my senior management experience was predominantly in HR roles.

In terms of skills that background provided, I think learning to influence was a very important one. As a service role that doesn’t directly generate revenue, HR is not typically regarded as one of the premier functions within an organisation, so you do need to learn how to effectively influence people to get your arguments heard. This is quite a useful skill for CEOs, who often have to deal with a wide range of stakeholders: employees, customers, owners, suppliers, government and so on.

Coaching is another useful competency you gain via HR. Good HR people are involved in coaching at multiple levels within the organisation – with their boss, their peers, their subordinates, and other people in the wider organisation.

"If anything, being CEO has reinforced how important people issues are..."

As an HR executive you often have to chair, or work on, groups made up of people with multiple agendas to try and achieve change. Collaboration, and generally building the business case for change, are skills you develop as a result. As CEO, too, you often need to engage others around a case for change and oversee the execution of that change, so these skills are also pretty fundamental to a CEO

What about the weaknesses of HR as a preparation for the CEO role?

DM: Clearly HR doesn’t give you the general commercial skills you need to perform as a CEO, as you typically haven’t had that profit and loss responsibility for an overall business. In HR, too, you can see the people strategy as an end in itself, whereas, in reality, the people strategy has to be driven by the overall business strategy. At times an HR executive will spend too much time on the people strategy itself, and not enough on understanding the overall direction and logic of the business as a whole.

Working exclusively in HR, or any other functional discipline for that matter, doesn’t prepare you for the complexities of some of the issues you face as a CEO. As CEO you are dealing with many issues at the same time, all of which typically require you to make a decision on. Many of these decisions require you to look at things across a broad range of functions and from multiple perspectives: how you match assets to different revenue opportunities, how to resource innovation across the organisation, how those resource allocation decisions affect your current and future customer base, and so on. The scope, and the number of variables in the decision, are just so much greater than what you might have experienced in a single functional discipline.

How did you adapt to these different demands, once you became a CEO?

DM: Because you do have to take more decisions across a broader range of issues, and usually under greater time pressure than you experienced as an HR executive, you do need to change your approach. You become a very good listener, as you depend so much on what people are telling you as an input into making the right decision. You become very adept at taking in information, summarising it in your mind, asking the right validating and clarifying questions and giving feedback, so you can then take the right decision.

You also become much more ruthless in how you manage your own time. You might give yourself 30 minutes, say, to deal with a particular issue, then you need to take a decision and move on to the next issue. You simply don’t have the time you had before to sit with particular decisions.

The CEO role is so different, and I think those differences apply regardless of your functional background, be it HR, sales and marketing, operations, or whatever. Everyone has the challenge of growing whatever initial skill set they had, as you are, by definition, building with a far broader set of issues as a CEO: employee, competitive positioning, customer, commercial or whatever. The only people who perhaps don’t have this issue to the same degree are those who have been particularly groomed for the CEO role – that is, they have been purposely rotated through a broad range of roles with an emphasis on general management that has allowed them to acquire the multiple perspectives and skills a CEO requires. Everyone else has to learn it as they go along!

Is that process of ensuring some people in the company do have the experience a CEO role requires, by rotating them through a considered set of job roles, something you have in place in your own organisation?

DM: We do that to some degree now, and it is something we will do more of in the future. We have taken some of our very best people out of their functional roles and rotated them through different areas of the business to ensure we get a good read on their capabilities under pressure and allow them to discover some things about themselves when out of their comfort zone.

That’s an important point, isn’t it, because not everyone wants to leave their comfort zone!

DM: That’s true, but generally the brightest and most ambitious people understand that, if they want to be CEO, they need to go through that learning experience to get a broad understanding of the business. Not everyone, even if they are excellent in their functional role, does want to do that, of course, so it’s not something we would insist upon!

Sometimes there seems to be a trade-off sometimes between the immediate productivity of a business unit or function, and the need to rotate people through particular jobs to build their skill sets.

HR people often seem blissfully unaware of this, but is this something you have become more aware of as a CEO?

DM: There is always a tension between what is right in the long-term, for both the business and the individual, and what could be a downside in the short-term. There are always trade-offs involved, and that is just one of the balances you need to get right as a CEO.

"If HR doesn't have this business understanding, you get a disconnected HR function, with a very program-driven HR approach..."

As a CEO, of course, you often do have control of the timing of these moves, so that is where you can exercise some influence. If there are pressing issues in a particular function or business, for example, you are not going to pull out someone who is the best person for managing that particular problem at that time. A brilliant marketer is probably not going to be shifted half-way through a major re-branding exercise, because they need to gain broader experience in the longer term. However, where this ‘hold’ occurs, we would construct a plan to ensure the next development opportunity is in place. The most frustrating issue for an individual who is regarded as high potential and been informed of that view by the business is when lip service is paid to their development because of their indispensability in a particular role. In almost every case like that you will lose the individual to the external market place

Has your perspective on people issues changed since you have taken on the CEO role, compared to when you were in the HR function?

DM: If anything, being CEO has reinforced how important people issues are. It reinforces how important people are to the success of your own business, and ultimately your own personal success as CEO.

It is absolutely critical that you have clarity around accountabilities and responsibilities in roles, provide clear and ongoing feedback about individual performance in those roles, and identifying and developing opportunities for the top talent in your organisation. It’s not just a CEO or HR executive who needs this, it is required across and down the entire organisation.

None of this is as easy as it sounds, of course.. If, for example, as a senior manager, you have had a team around you for a long time, and have developed a loyalty to them and a desire to see them succeed, giving honest and direct feedback can be quite a challenge. In our organisation, we have a process that ensures every salaried person gets formal feedback every second month, so we do take this issue very seriously.

What are your expectations of your own senior HR manager?

DM: Firstly, I expect them to be a highly competent general counsel about people issues within the organisation, someone I can turn to whenever I need a good source of advice.

I also expect them to have a broad understanding of the business, as their job is to create and implement people strategies that deliver business outcomes, and they can only do that if they have an excellent understanding of the business. If HR doesn’t have this business understanding, you get a disconnected HR function, with a very program-driven HR approach. All the programs and initiatives are there, but they are not really connected to the business. They are far too generic and formulaic to be really useful.

Finding top talent, both within and outside the organisation, is also a key capability of a good HR leader.

Finally, they also need to be, of all the senior management team, the person who provides the most challenging thinking about individuals in particular and in the development of our overall people strategy.

What are the two or three most important things in having a more effective CEO-HR relationship?

DM: There has to be a high level of trust between the CEO and the HR director. At times you are working on significant and very confidential issues, so there needs to be trust and transparency on both sides.

As a CEO you also need to give HR directors very clear objectives, and, once the goals and targets are agreed, be as tough on HR as you would be on any other executive in holding them accountable for delivering results.

You also need to engage your HR function, not just pigeon-hole them around purely ‘people’ issues. You need to get HR involved and make them feel part of the discussions about the broader business. As with any other specialist function, like finance or marketing or anything, if you don’t get them involved they are more likely to see the business purely from their own functional perspective.



From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa
I totally agree with Prof Lakshman. If an HR is exposed to other aspects of the organisation processes then he may turn to be a real good CEO as he has the man management capability to drive the personnel around him.

From India
Hello. Prof. Lakshman,
Thanks a lot for sharing the information with us.
We discussed this topic in Cite hr offline meet, but could not come to conclusion because of lack of facts.
The information provided by you will surely be helpful for deciding our future course of action.

From India, Delhi
Dear Professor,
Your posting is really enlightening and will open the eyes of many HR professionals towards the opportunities ahead for them.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks.
With best regards,

From India, Bangalore
Dear Jeevan,
It was a wonderful discussion. There are few HR professionals who are CEO's one such person is Mr. Ram Babu - Managing Director of EID parry.
some more details
Sujit Bakshi of vCustomer
- Aadesh Goyal of Hughes' BPO unit
- Bhaskar Das of Sutherland Technologies
- Prashant Sankaran of Digital Contact Centre (a part of HP)
- Vinoo Thimayya of Honeywell's BPO

From India, Madras
I can only say...that my Boss VP-HR in my previous company is now CEO of the same company. So, I don't see any reason why a HR Professional cannot become CEO. However, for that one should have Following Skills:
1) Willingness to accept Challanges
2) Expertise in the subject and about the Industry
3) Should know, how business can be done...that to get business...from where the revenues are coming....where they are to make profit and other related things.
I hope this will help.
Sanjeev Sharma
(Blog: hhtp://

From India, Mumbai
Dear all,

I am really happy to learn through our friends that some HR Heads have turned out to be CEOs in our country; so we have local examples to give. Thanks to all of them. Prof.Lakshman’s contribution to the discussion is really excellent. My sincere thanks to him.

Subsequent to the responses, I was really wondering what it takes for the HR Manager to hold the office of the CEO eventually. How can he climb on this special ladder? Does HR as a management function have the potential to prepare its incumbents for reaching the CEO position and performing the CEO job successfully?

For the HR Manager ambitious about becoming the CEO, is it necessary that he has to sit and learn the other management functions – finance, marketing, operations, etc.?

Has the HR job he has been doing for years provided him already the insight so he can naturally learn the principles lying behind the other management functions, then grasp more on the subjects?

Does he need to gain some expertise in all the management functions?

I was reading a posting in CiteSales on ’22 Laws of Marketing’ hoping to learn some basic marketing ideas.

What I find is that these laws are not different to HR management situations in their principles. Basically they would be equally valid for HR management, though they are written for marketing. You think of recruitment, salary negotiation, negotiation with unions, outsourcing suppliers, managing the relations with line managers, boss, subordinates, training, or any aspect of HRM for that matter. You can very well derive guideline from one of these 22 laws.

So, it is not sharpening your knowledge in other areas, it is not coming out of the people perspective and wearing the business perspective, it is not changing your management style and attitude for CEO position and it is not about drastic changes that one may think he needs to bring in his personal management style/system for achieving this objective. I would say you need to improve your people perspective when you become the CEO or want to become one.

In fact, the HR management function when you dedicate yourself to this has all the potential to naturally prepare you for the CEO position and gain the business acumen you need for doing this job.

Recently I was reading the book ‘ How to think like a CEO – The 22 vital traits You Need to be the Person at the Top’ by D.A. Benton. (22 laws of marketing and 22 traits required to become the CEO – is 22 a wonder number I do not know.)

The author has prescribed the following 22 traits that you need for becoming the CEO –


























Dear friends, I emphasize that HR has all the potential to naturally prepare one to acquire / develop the above traits more than any other management function. If HR cannot prepare its incumbents for the Company Head position, no other function can do that, in my opinion.

Your views, please.


From India, Bangalore

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