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By now, most of you are aware that a former human resources leader has transcended the HR space to become CEO of a Fortune 100 company. And for the uninitiated (click here for a complete article on the move), Mary Barra, the former vice president of HR at General Motors Co. will become the automaker’s new CEO. 

Hope.  This gives hope that HR leaders can do anything they want, including being CEO someday, right? Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 10.33.33 AM

Actually, it doesn't.  A deeper dive in the career path of Barra and some knowledge of succession planning at the major company level tells us that for all the good vibes PR this gives the HR function, HR leaders need to leave HR as soon as possible in order to aspire to the CEO seat.

I'm up over at with 5 things that the Mary Barra promotion to CEO tells any HR leader that aspires to be a CEO.  Here's the first two things from my list at, click on the link to get the rest:

1. Get the hell out of HR soon. Let’s be clear: One look at the Barra profile tells you her HR experience was part of a power rotation to learn the business, not a defining tag on her résumé. That should tell you what has always been the reality: You need to rotate elsewhere to be enough of a player to become the CEO of a company of any size and scale.

2. Deep subject matter expertise in an area core to the business is desired. Barra is an engineer at heart, an area that’s obviously core to GM’s business. Your company also has a similar heartbeat. If you have an undergrad that matches that heartbeat, you could do HR, take a rotation elsewhere and become a player in the race to become the boss. If your educational background doesn’t fit, you have no chance. But you could find a company that provides a better match and values your non-HR undergrad.

If you want to be a CEO, good for you.  Just understand you can't do from where you sit now as an HR leader.  You have to be brave enough to leave if you want to have your hat in the ring for the big job.

Hit for the full article!  Bonus reference to the movie "The Social Network" and Mark Zuckerberg's business cards at a young age.



I was in a pretty intense meeting some peers and the CEO of a very large hospital. We were discussing leadership amongst other things.

He goes around the room, asks us what department/area of expertise we are in or have and I say Human Resources.

He looks me dead in the eye and says "No one becomes CEO by being in HR, no one. It's all about the business."

Truer words were never spoken...

John Petrov

That is not always the case and shame on your hospital's CEO who has a very narrow perspective on life and the workplace. Anything is possible. I know of several former HR leaders in hospitals that now successfully servce as the CEO.

Stacy Adams

Great comment John!

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