Previous CEO experience reemerges as top priority during pandemic, gender diversity remains low among CEOs globally

Local | 23 Nov 2020 7:21 pm

With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, companies delayed leadership transitions, appointing CEOs with proven track records and deprioritizing diversity of experience and backgrounds. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of the way companies view themselves, from their purpose to their workforce, as well as how they perform under pressure and in the face of uncertainty.

 The seventh annual Route to the Top 2020 report from Heidrick & Struggles analyzes the backgrounds of the 965 CEOs leading the largest listed companies in 20 markets to understand the skills and experiences that shaped their path to the top role. 

The report compared CEO appointments made after March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, to those appointed from January 2019 to March 10, 2020. 

 “There has been a shift in CEO selection during the pandemic as companies seek executives who can help their organizations seamlessly navigate through these unprecedented times,” said Jeff Sanders, vice chairman and co-managing partner of the global CEO & Board Practice, Heidrick & Struggles.

“Companies undertaking such an important appointment over the past year have been putting more importance on previous CEO experience and also looking externally for their next CEO,” he added.

“While a proven track record is extremely important during periods of uncertainty, we know that broader diversity of experience, sustainability and purpose will be viewed as critical to long-term survival and growth when the global business environment returns to some semblance of normal.”

Globally, diversity has taken a backseat this year amid the pandemic, but Hong Kong CEOs remain international -- with only roughly one-third of them local. However, in terms of female leaders at the top, Hong Kong with only 2 percent of female CEOs is behind APAC counterparts such as Australia, Singapore and the global average of five percent. Only 6 percent of Hong Kong CEOs have a cross-industry experience, the lowest globally.



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