Will we one day see a senior sustainability executive, or ‘Chief Sustainability Officer’, become CEO of a large company?
I would doubt it, at least things currently stand.
I’m not sure a senior sustainability executive, as they currently exist, would make a good CEO in today’s world.
1) In laggard companies there would not be the support for them.
2) In middle-of-the-road companies they wouldn’t have the business experience to be a good CEO and drive sustainability.
3) In leadership companies they wouldn’t have the political nous, experience and connections to succeed in the way current CEOs in leading companies do.
That’s not to say this can’t change at some point. But I can’t see a senior sustainability executive becoming CEO just yet.
It’s most likely to happen in a company such as Unilever, where senior managers are moved around once they know key areas of the business very well.
In such circumstances, it’s possible a country head or ‘traditional’ executive might do a stint in sustainability (as now in that firm), not see it as a career dead-end, and end up as overall CEO.
But Paul Polman told me recently that he has no plans to step down any time soon, thankfully.
It will be quite a while before a senior sustainability executive becomes CEO of a major company. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Those who are good at their jobs may realise they are better placed inspiring traditional executives rather than being the boss themselves.
(This post earlier today may also be of interest to readers: “Should Chief Sustainability Officers sit on the company board?“)