Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says that life is not about making money or winning awards.
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel says that life is not about making money or winning awards.

What It Takes to Become a CEO

Evan Spiegel, the 28-year-old co-founder and CEO of Snap, Inc., the Los Angeles-based parent of Snapchat, is often seen as an inspiration to future business leaders. He became a billionaire in 2015, not long after launching Snapchat in 2011, and has been referred to as the youngest CEO of a public company. His business has grown quickly from student project to publicly traded powerhouse. Snap’s initial public offering in March 2017 brought Spiegel further into the limelight when it commanded a listing price of $17 a share.

Spiegel has also shown a knack for turning disappointment into practical life lessons. Snap’s share price has fallen from its IPO highs to about $12, as its earnings have disappointed investors. The media-shy Spiegel admitted in a recent Inc. magazine story that he needs to do a better job of explaining to investors how his company works.

With young CEOs like Spiegel in mind, KWHS wondered how the next generation of senior managers could groom themselves for leadership roles — so we turned to one of the most experienced leadership minds in the business.

“Evan Spiegel’s appointment as CEO is a kind of proof-of-concept that those of almost any age can become a senior leader of a company, even a chief executive of an enterprise,” says Wharton management professor Michael Useem, who is also director of Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. “You don’t necessarily need 40 years of working experience or 50 years of wisdom to reach the corner office.”

Useem, the author of many books on leadership, including The Leader’s Checklist, offers the following advice to high school students who aspire to rise quickly through the corporate ranks or to grab that coveted CEO title:

  • “Don’t aim to be a chief executive as such; virtually every CEO I have spoken to has said they never planned to become a CEO but through a series of events they did became a CEO. Take on every job, every assignment and every responsibility fully, make it happen, execute. As those engagements by you begin to accumulate, people look at you as good material to become a senior manager or maybe even a chief executive.
  • “Put your hand up to take every opportunity possible to do what you have not done before. So, if you have not been on a student council, this is a good time to be thinking of becoming a candidate, even if you are temperamentally shy and introverted. If you are able to be on a sports team, get out there and do it. There is no better guide to developing your talent than you yourself. Do that by looking at others who are doing well such as teachers or coaches, and by reading great literature on how to make a difference in business and beyond. All of that has to be self-directed by you. You are the impresario; you are the producer of yourself.
  • “Think strategically, which means looking at what is happening before it happens. If you are on the high school hockey team, you are looking to where the puck is going to be and not where it is now. Next, decide decisively. That means being resolute and being willing to make a decision when you have a lot of information and a lot of confidence, but not 100% of each. So do your due diligence, but don’t suffer from analysis paralysis.
  • “Finally, communicate persuasively. If you are a part of a high school production of a play or musical, or volunteer to become involved in student government, those are methods to be more stage present, and get a stage voice to get your message across to the room. Once you have people’s attention, focus on storytelling skills. They want to know where we are going together, why we are going there, where are we coming from, and how are we getting to a more promised land.”

Back to that young CEO Spiegel for a moment, whose wealth tops $3 billion, according to Forbes. He has admitted that he has made missteps in his leadership role, such as not always being the best communicator. As Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli points out, “Young correlates almost perfectly with inexperience.” Even if you reach that corner office before most, you are likely to be learning on the job.

Ultimately, it may also be useful to have a sense of purpose on your path to senior management, and not merely a drive for power, prestige and prosperity. During the 2018 Code Conference on May 29, Spiegel discussed values in the tech industry with journalist Kara Swisher (see Related Links for the full interview and Spiegel’s thoughts on SnapChat’s redesign). He said, “So, obviously, life is not about making money. Life’s not about winning awards. It’s not about winning competitions or whatever. Life is really about having an impact on the world, changing the way that people experience the world, changing the way that you experience the world.”

What values will you have as CEO?

Conversation Starters

Do you have a CEO role model at a startup or established company around the world? If so, who is it? Why do you admire that person?

Take a moment to watch the 'Related Links' video where Evan Spiegel is interviewed by Kara Swisher. Snapchat's redesign has been met with resistance. As a Snapchat user, were you upset over the changes? Why or why not?

What does Michael Useem mean when he says, "You are the impresario; you are the producer of yourself"?

6 thoughts on “What It Takes to Become a CEO

  1. This article has many good points to talk about. First of all, answering th question made: when Michael Useem says about you being your impresarion, he is relacting the fact that every action of a pearson brings him (or her) consequences, poditive or negative, so, you’re always investing on yourself, you’re always constrocting yourself and so, you’re your impresario.
    Other incredible thing I’d like to state about are the parts that made me realize that some failures are not a reason to give up. As said in the article, Spiegal’s shares once fell a lot, but he past over it. It’s also seen in the last paragraph of the article.
    Also it’s very constructive to see an specialist saying that it’s not necessary to have many years of experience in order to turn into a good leader and get in a high position. To see that the hard work is valorized by those who are in the top is really
    relieving.
    And last, but not least, the four topics listed as caracteristics of a good CEO are awesome. Turning into a leader naturaly, not forcing your path into it, will certainly make a best CEO; using every oportunity you have, going into every door you opened; getting the most life experience you can, after all, is trought it that we grow the most and, finally, being persuasive and capeble of convincing others (but not manipulating them, something similar to “nudging” in economics) so they may follow you knowing that it’s the best, they may “obey” you even if there’s no order (it’s not a good thing to “order” people…).
    Finally, as CEO I’d consider important being open to changes and reviews. Also I’d try to know as much as possible those who follow me so I could lead them more properly, using each one strenghts. I’d try to achive my personal objectives but doing good thing in the process (I like social
    entrepreneurship).

  2. When Mr.Useem proclaimed, “You are the impresario; you are the producer of yourself,” the first thing that came to my mind was actually a belief that I myself have held throughout high school: no matter wherever an individual is in his/her stage of development in life, in terms of productivity, efficiency, and communication, if he/she takes it upon themselves to learn and practice new skills that are necessary for furthering their development, then that individual would be priming themselves for success. And, given the context of the paragraph from which this quote was taken, it would seem that Mr.Useem shares a similar point of view. If one is able to recognize a problem that he may have, there are a variety of ways to fix the problem and turn a weakness into a strength. For example, I used to be a very shy individual; recognizing this, I entered myself into various speech and debate competitions. These competitions not only forced me to take action and actually practice a skill that I was uncomfortable doing (communicating in a persuasive, informative, and effective manner), but it also exposed me to other individuals that had different strengths and weaknesses than me while also sharing a similar mindset to what I had on progress, self-development, and the world in general. The same can be said to someone who is very unproductive; there are so many books out there, such as “The Productivity Project” by Chris Bailey and “Deep Work” by Cal Newport, that I myself have read and implemented, that can inform one of the steps that need to be taken in order to be a more efficient and productive worker (after all, how many people can say that they are as productive as they can be?) All in all, I believe that Mr.Useem is stating that it is in your own hands to take it upon yourself to learn the skills that are necessary to be successful, whether it be the practice more than anyone else for a math competition, read up on how to be more productive, read the news, books on investing, or even literature on how to be a better communicators (a great recommendation would be “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie). It is always important to be a part of various organizations and clubs so that you may experience different opportunities that will definitely help one to narrow down what he/she wants to accomplish in life.

    As it can be seen, I do resonate with the points this article makes about being an effective communicator and taking it upon yourself to look for new opportunities and expand your horizons; this not only paves the way for more discussion and the spread of knowledge amongst individuals but also creates new learning experiences that are vital to everyone’s goal in life.

    I also agree with what the article states about having a clear purpose or goal that one would like to accomplish. It has been shown numerous times through studies and personal experiments that writing down your goals and taking active measures to be constantly reminded of them helps to make individuals more motivated and aware of the standards that they set for themselves. And what’s more, is that after you accomplish a goal, you will only want more as you would have grown to enjoy the process and revel in that sense of success; I, along with many of my friends, can personally vouch for this, whether it be in setting your sights on a perfect SAT score, placing at the international science fair, running a club at school, to even setting a new personal record in the gym. I believe that if one sets REALISTIC goals, accomplishes them, and then continue to set even more goals that are difficult to accomplish, he/she will be able to take a very focused approach to what they want to achieve in their lives.

    And finally, of course, the article made an EXCEPTIONAL point that made sense to me as soon as I read it. Do not aim to become the CEO, but rather take on difficult tasks that provide you with new opportunities and accomplish them to the very best of your abilities. While this may seem to clash with my perspective on goal setting, further analysis will show that it actually doesn’t. For example, we can take a student that is struggling with math; he/she has a C in the class. The first goal that he/she would have to take is to diagnose her areas of practice and make a plan of action that is comprehensive and effective; this can be done by checking with teachers, doing his/her own research, and taking advice from other students that are performing better in math. Notice how the goal is NOT to get a 100 on the next BC Calculus test which is in one week (or another far-reaching goal). While the student drills the weak areas, he/she can also have a conversation with various math teachers and students about math, school, or even other goals and aspects of life; this communication will not only expose the student to other perspectives on the academic journey but can also give him/her more insight as to what he/she wants to do themselves. Finally, after the student becomes proficient in the diagnosed weaker areas, the next goal is to get a B in the class. Then, the next goal is to get an A in the class. The next goal would then be to miss no more than one question on a test. And then the next goal would be to get a 100 on a test and the consistently get 100s on all the tests to come. At this point, a weakness in math could have become a proficiency in an area of study that has a lot of application to the real world and can even be used to extend to Applied Mathematical Studies, Finance, programming, or even the application of the logical thinking process involved with solving complex mathematical equations. Similarly, for one wanting to become a CEO and run an ENTIRE company, it is important to first ensure that you are accomplishing whatever it is you are trying to accomplish to the best of your abilities. And, if you recognize that your abilities have significant room for improvement, then take the steps necessary in order to fix your weaknesses, and then complete your tasks with an unprecedented rate of success while networking and “putting yourself out there.” Once you can accomplish something in a way that almost no one else can do, you will effectively open up new doors for you to showcase, use, and improve your skills, which will open up even better opportunities. I firmly believe that this approach not only applies to those that want to become a CEO but also to those that want to become leaders in other professions and/or want to accomplish something that has never been done before (or that a very small number of individuals have accomplished).

    To summarize, this article reinforced the fact that it is in your hands to improve yourself to the point where you are recognized as nothing but a leader, a hard worker, a communicator, and a problem solver that suits the role of becoming a CEO and leading a company.

    1. Naveen, your comment is very insightful and tying in your personal experience allowed myself to connect with your points. People often create their own walls they have to climb over by never leaving their comfort zone. As you mentioned with your experience in taking it upon yourself to join speech and debate competitions, you recognized the weakness you had and set out to overcome it. There are a lot of people, of all different ages, that do not have that initiative and are willing to just accept their weakness. Instead of trying to fix the problem long term, they look for temporary fixes. I also resonate with your stance on setting realistic goals for yourself and going after them. In high school your expectations are set very high and someone else always has a goal that they set for you. For example, in my life my mother is always the one putting pressure on me with my school work. Only a 100 is acceptable and if I received a 99 it’s, “why didn’t you get 100?”. Yes, I understand that this approach is her form of encouragement, but I understand where my weaknesses are and establish my own goal. English is my worst subject at school so I set a goal of receiving an A on all my essays. I know that my writing is not the best, as you can see :), but I know that without effort I can achieve a B. So, I put the extra effort when planning out what I am going to write, take time editing my work, and if it’s allowed, I ask my peers to read it over. We need to set our own goals that we believe we can achieve, if we put in the amount of work to do so. However, I disagree with you about not aiming to become the CEO. If someone’s goal is to become the CEO of a company, they can have that goal. They just have to be willing to put in the work, by taking the difficult jobs and putting in the hours to show their worth to the company. Overall, thought your comment was a great response to the article and you really developed all the points you spoke about.

  3. “What makes a good CEO, and what values should they have?”

    It’s a good question, and it’s certainly striking enough to make a reader pause and reflect. But even though it is a question of merit, I believe the question should be “What makes a good person? And more specifically, what makes a good leader?”

    A CEO is not necessarily different from the average street vendor or 9-5 worker. Additionally, a leader is not necessarily a person with a title but rather someone who is able to influence the communities around them, whether positive or negative. Thus, in asking what components make up a wonderful CEO, we are asking ourselves the most basic question about what it means to be a good person and how best to lead the people around us. To me, good CEOs hold five main qualities:
    1) A Focus on the People: Though many companies have HR departments and often provide benefits to employees, most often prioritize results and money over their own people. Often times, it can be easy to view employees as just another expense or commodity to be bought and sold, yet companies and sometimes larger CEOs forget that people are the driving force behind the success of the company and that a focus on worker flexibility and happiness is essential to maintaining a strong foundation for company culture and prosperity.
    2) The Ability to Lead by Example: Staying humble, refusing to slack in responsibilities, and being available to company members or even team members who require assistance are just examples of how a CEO can lead by example. Company culture shouldn’t be one of coercion or aversion but rather one of respect, and that culture begins with the CEO. Whether it’s a cheerful “Good morning!” in the early hours of the day or the willingness to put in late hours to help an analyst on his/her project, the ability to inspire others and foster joy within the workspace is most recognizable through the CEO’s leadership and perception in the environment.
    3) Generosity: Many CEOs have made it big. With millions in their bank account, it’s sometimes easy to forget the struggles of others and those in need. A good person, leader, or CEO should often remember to give back to the community whenever possible and cultivate a sense of appreciation for all that they have been given. Granted, a CEO’s position could only have been earned through their own perseverance and hard work, yet even so, the ability to build a better community instead of simply a better company is what separates good CEOs from regular CEOs. In addition, I believe that good CEOs also look toward the future. Not simply focused on the “here and now” of their company, good CEOs act as mentors to younger members of society who are also eager to take a dive and explore the business realm. Taking time out of one’s day isn’t expected of any CEO, yet it is the humility to allow others the same opportunity to thrive and the respect for people outside the company that show a leader’s willingness to go above and beyond.
    4) The Integrity to do the Right Thing: It may seem hard to maintain oversight of all the activities that go on within your organization, and it may even seem tedious to make sure everything in the company is transparent, yet taking an active stance of supervision can help ensure lawful and honest approaches to doing business, both for the betterment of the community and the company. Though rare in nature, examples of mass scandals like the 2002 WorldCom event or the 2008 Hewlett-Packard spying scandal show that a lack of transparency is not only devastating to the company and the people involved but also to innocent bystanders. Implementing pro-whistle blower policies or holding weekly team meetings with the company to discuss what occurred throughout can be very beneficial to preserving the company’s integrity.
    5) The Ability to Persevere and Maintain: Leading a corporation is no easy feat, but in addition to following the traits above, leaders must continuously maintain the ability to be generous, lead by example, etc. It makes no difference if a leader is wonderful in the first several weeks if he is unable to stay consistent in performance and falls off soon after. The CEO or leader of any group is like a captain navigating a certain course, and like all captains, each CEO is certain to run into a storm at some point. Keeping calm and persevering through the tough tides and institutional problems that may arise is an essential trait of any leader who takes the helm.

    So… who is my CEO role model, and why do I admire that person?

    Some would choose Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, or even Bill Gates, and they are certainly great choices, but my role model is a more personal choice. My role model is Brint Ryan, CEO of Ryan LLC. A CEO whose company has been constantly growing for the past decade and a half, Brint focuses his leadership on the ideals stated above. Whether it’s an emphasis on the people through the company-wide MyRyan, which allows moms and students to take on a more flexible work schedule and/or location to fit their needs, or the nation-wide Ryan Foundation, which volunteers a multitude of hours and donates millions for those in need, Brint crafted his company around character traits that make a good person. In fact, as I was looking for a summer opportunity to get a head-start in finance, I emailed Brint, asking if he would be willing to meet with me and discuss the optimal path I should take. And though he only knew my name and school, which I provided to him in the email, he happily sacrificed an hour of his time to help me become the better person I am today. And though I had no family connections in the world of business and my only skill was my ability to persuasively converse from years of debating on the national circuit, Brint gave me the opportunity to work alongside like-minded fascinating financial leaders of his company over the summer.

    As Michael Useem once said, “You are the producer of yourself.”

    Taking on the responsibility of shaping your own life can be scary, but it is indisputable that only you can control your path to success. To ensure you are a good person, leader, and/or CEO, it is imperative that you focus on the people, maintain a generous and honest approach in daily affairs, and lead by example. I believe that if you follow this approach and continually attempt to achieve higher and seek opportunities, a successful life will come your way. It won’t be easy, but anything is possible if you put your best foot forward in everything that you do, plan strategically, and communicate. And even if you aren’t the top Forbes CEO or a CEO at all, you will be glad knowing you led a fulfilling life that positively impacted the world.

    “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” – Alexander the Great

  4. 1). aEverybody has a role model they look up to. Unlike most people who idolize well-known CEOs such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. I idolize my father, Jin Hyun Park a CEO and chairman of a medium/big sized semiconductor company. My father is not the CEO of a fortune 500 company that is well known through the media. However, my father who I will be referring to as Mr. Park in the comment is a person who is respected and idolized by those who meet him and have done business with him. Aside from him being my father, I idolize him for various reasons. One being he respects and treats the janitors at his company like he would respect and treat a CEO of a different company like. Second, he cares for his employees and his family before himself. A CEO meets and networks with thousands of people throughout his lifetime. Being able to leave a positive impact on everyone he meets is a respectful, yet quite impossible doing. However, he always attempts to do so by making sure he takes responsibility for his actions. To him, success is not making a clear mark to people that he is wealthy, powerful, and above them. To him, success is making a difference and getting respect from people the rightful way. Dealing with large sums of money and responsibility it is hard to keep morality and virtue in the business world. However, by idolizing my father, Mr. Park, I was able to change the attitude I dealt with people with. Which brought immediate change to my life.

    It is widely questioned what values make a CEO successful. Even though there are values in countless amounts. The three prioritized values are:
    1). Show & Prove; CEOs must be able to prove a success and execute their goals by proving with examples.
    2). Having the will to continuously learn and adapt; In the market like the current where the world is changing constantly with new technology coming up every day, it is crucial for the CEO to continuously learn and adapt to the markets.
    3). Humbleness and Generosity; No matter how successful or wealthy a CEO may be it is important to always acknowledge those who have less than them.

    You are the impresario; you are the producer of yourself. This is a vague statement that could be interpreted in many ways. The best way to interpret it would be controlling and constructing your own way to success. Being a CEO means a life full of ongoing missions and burdens. Being a producer of yourself is an important concept to be aware of.

    1. Hi Joshua! Thank you for sharing your story about your father. I truly loved reading about all the ways he inspires you and treats people with respect and dignity.

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