Strategy

The CEO Poll: Working abroad key to success

Canadian CEOs on the skills needed to reach the top.

Business leaders give the federal mini-budget high marks.

Canadian CEOs are homebodies. Few of them have overseas work experience compared to their international counterparts, according to a recent study by global headhunting firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Only 37% of Canadian CEOs have spent at least one year abroad before ascending to the top job, compared to 67% of Australian CEOs.

But the country’s executives recognize the importance of international work experience. In a web poll conducted by Compas Inc., CEOs were asked to advise young people on the necessary skills and preparation for success in business, and nearly 70% of the respondents strongly recommended early overseas work experience.

‘Overseas and varied experience is the most important factor,’ wrote one CEO. ‘There is too much time spent on paper qualifications.’ Early work experience in the U.S. was deemed to be less important than time spent in emerging markets.

The CEOs also see acquiring foreign language skills to be beneficial, and most of them believe having Chinese language skills is more important than fluency in other languages, such as Spanish or Japanese.

Indeed, the respondents believe Chinese language skills will be slightly more useful for success in business than acquiring a PhD in any field, excluding engineering. ‘I had started on my PhD, but realized that I would become too limited in job prospects in the real word,’ wrote one respondent. ‘So I dropped further education at that point. Best decision I could have ever made.’

On the whole, however, the CEOs strongly supported education. Possessing excellent written and oral communication skills, and obtaining a degree from a top Canadian university were the most crucial requirements for business success, according to the respondents.