Some firms' fertile soil grows crop of future CEOs

ByABC News
January 9, 2008, 1:05 AM

— -- Get that MBA degree and groom that Type A personality. But here's some additional advice for the ambitious: Land a job at Baxter International, Merrill Lynch or another leadership factory.

Then, work up and out.

GE, known for an intensive performance review process and the dismissal of workers who perform in the bottom 10%, is so well known for its executive alumni that some experts, including Good to Great author Jim Collins, say that the conglomerate's key product may be leadership. But an exclusive dive deep into résumés for USA TODAY by Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, found that while GE and IBM have produced the most CEOs, there are a few companies that offer better odds of getting to the top.

GE has a large workforce of 300,000, which means that its employees have had a 1-in-11,540 shot of becoming CEO of a $2 billion company. Odds at IBM, with 366,500 employees, have been 1-in-20,360. But McKinsey, with a workforce of 11,000 and 16 sitting CEO alumni, has offered a 1-in-690 shot, well ahead of second-place Deloitte & Touche, at 1-in-2,150.

McKinsey, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and the now-defunct Arthur Andersen all rank in the Top 20 as CEO factories. But they're management consultants, which makes them fundamentally different animals from GE and IBM. They can recruit the top MBA grads, who hire on to help client companies solve knotty problems. Those who succeed earn reputations and a fast track to the top.

"With numbers, you can make any point you want," says Susan Peters, GE's vice president of executive development and chief learning officer, who suggests GE's real odds might be higher, because just half of its employees are white-collar professionals.