Study Finds One Quarter of CEOs Have a Marketing or Sales Background

Hal Conick
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
​What? Marketing may be a good path to becoming a high-paid CEO, one study finds.

So what? A quarter of CEOs studied had a sales or marketing background, and their average salary was nearly $800,000 per year.

Now what? One of the study's authors says marketers may be “more agile, more versatile and less risk-averse.”
Feb. 18, 2017​

Want to become a high-paid CEO? Work in marketing first

Is a marketing career a good foundation for a CEO? The answer is yes, according to a study presented at the 2017 Winter AMA Conference. One study finds 25% of CEOs have a marketing background.

(Photo: Howard Schultz of Starbucks was director of marketing before becoming CEO.)


Frank Germann, assistant professor at Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business, presented a study which finds that more than 25% of CEOs had a marketing or sales background. The only other field that came close was general business management, followed distantly by finance and technology.

“Marketing CEOs are actually quite common,” Germann says, adding that the idea that marketers have been “losing touch” may itself be out of touch.

The study, undertaken by Germann, Stanford's Stephen Anderson and London Business School's Rajesh Chandy, looked at the largest publicly held firms from 2002 to 2006. This data set included 233 firms and 506 CEOs. Germann says they will soon be expanding the data set to include statistics up to 2012.

Other statistics from this study show:

  • Just less than 20% of CEOs had their “formative experience,” or five years of experience after college, in sales and marketing.

  • A third of CEOs with a marketing background are in the largest companies, while 30.3% of CEOs with a sales background are in the smallest companies.

  • Marketing CEOs tend to gravitate toward CPG companies in industries such as food, wholesale trade and retail.

  • B-to-B is a popular area for marketing CEOs, as 42% of B-to-B companies employ a CEO with a marketing background. “It makes sense to have a marketing CEO because he or she knows how to deal with the customer,” Germann says.

  • Nearly half (49%) of marketing CEOs have an MBA, Germann says.

  • Half of marketing CEOs were hires from outside of the company, and 63.44% worked for three or more employers. The grand majority of these CEOs, 83%, have worked in different geographies.

  • The average marketing CEO salary is nearly $800,000 annually.

Germann says this survey, at the very least, should show that marketing is not an unwise route to becoming a CEO.

“They might be a little more agile, more versatile and less risk-averse,” he says.

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Author Bio:
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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