How have the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies worked their way to the top position? Are there several paths to the top, or have most present-day CEOs moved up the ranks in a similar fashion? We examine the employment trajectories of all of the current Fortune 100 CEOs across their entire working careers to answer these questions. The analysis developed in this article is carried out in two steps. We first use sequence analysis to find the patterns that are characteristic of the career paths of these CEOs. We then apply clustering techniques to identify distinct groups of career paths that have led individuals to the uppermost management level. Our results show that the careers of the Fortune 100 CEOs have largely followed traditional career paths that are symbolized by steady progression toward more responsibility, little mobility between firms and industries, and a strong focus on general management functions.

Michael Koch, Bernard Forgues, and Vanessa Montiès. 2017. The Way to the Top: Career Patterns of Fortune 100 CEOs, Human Resource Management, 56(2): 267-285, first published November 25, 2015: