What The CEO Of 2040 Will Look Like

By 2040, 30% of CEOs will be women. Future leaders will be worldly, entrepreneurial, tech-savvy, strong communicators, and team players.

What The CEO Of 2040 Will Look Like
[Image: Flickr user Dan Taylor]

Meet Melissa. These days, she’s in the early stages of her career. Fast-forward 25 years to 2040, and she’s the CEO of the future.


With women comprising 60% of U.S. college students and 40% of MBA students, women will represent around 30% of the top 2,500 CEOs around the world in a quarter century, according to a recent report by Strategy&.

While the Strategy& report admits it’s not a crystal ball, taking a look at the changing role of the CEO over the past 100 years, and the new responsibilities the next cohort of chief execs will be facing down the line helps paint a vivid picture of what to expect of the CEO of the future.

Here are four key shifts that will change the role of CEOs around 25 years from 2014:

Companies Will Either Be Integrators Or Specialists

The report predicts that in 25 years, companies will fall into two competitive categories–“integrators” and “specialists.” The integrators are the large-scale companies like Amazon or Cisco that offer solutions to a wide range of problems using the expertise of “specialists.” The specialists are the ones offering the products or services these integrators sell. Specialists are the many small businesses that focus hard on one specific product or idea. These companies don’t usually have long lifespans–typically no more than 15 years–because they are so focused.

What does this dual organization of companies mean for Melissa, our figurative CEO of the future? She’ll have to be super-entrepreneurial and focused. As the CEO of an integrator–think Jeff Bezos or Michael Dell–she’ll have to be great at leading a company that knows how to bring lots of small players together to create a solution for customs. She’ll be focusing most of her time and energy on how the company, vendors, and customers can work together best.

If she’s running a specialist company, then the work she’ll be doing will be a lot more focused, but she’ll need to be prepared to move to a new company or role in a few years. The serial entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley today are a preview of the specialists of the future. While the short lifespan of such companies may seem discouraging, if Melissa wants to have a baby, she can time her career so that she runs one business, sells it, has a baby, then starts another business–without damaging her career path as she might if she worked in a larger corporation.


Taking a Systems Approach

The office of tomorrow will likely be a lot more collaborative and balanced than the office of today. That means an ability to work in teams is hugely important. Knowing how to build and fit into a well-oiled system will be key for Melissa and her CEO ilk. But it’s not only human systems that the future CEO will need to be a master of building and maintaining. Being well versed in technological systems–how information is flows–will be particularly important. The CEO of the future will know how to manipulate data much more quickly than today’s CEOs, acting fast to put changes in place based on this information.

Meet the Chief Resource Officer

The Strategy& study predicts a new addition to the C-suite called the chief resource officer who will be responsible for all non-financial resources. With climate change shrinking access to resources, this means we can expect a war for resources and the need to be savvier about strategies involving natural resources like water, fossil fuels, and clean air.

The CRO will likely replace the chief strategy officer of today, focusing more on resource strategy than overall corporate strategy. Instead the CEO of the future will be taking a much more active role in overseeing and developing the company’s strategy moving forward.

Tomorrow’s CEOs Will Be More Like University Chancellors

In the future, investors will be extremely focused on transparency. That means future CEOs will need to be even more responsible to stakeholders than they are today. This may mean that the C corporation won’t be the most effective model for companies down the line, with less of a need for a chairman of the board.

It also puts added pressure on Melissa to be an amazing communicator–able to listen, speak, write, and engage with stakeholders as clearly and effectively as possible. It’s a role that much more closely resembles that of a university chancellor than today’s CEO.

Getting there means having as many diverse experiences and putting yourself in as many challenging new situations as possible. “Get yourself into as many foreign circumstances as you can,” the report concludes, “especially if they require new skills or foreign languages–and go meet your future.”


About the author

Jane Porter writes about creativity, business, technology, health, education and literature. She's a 2013 Emerging Writing Fellow with the Center For Fiction