Can HR Become CEO Of a Company?


Yes. A very BIG YES!! HR can become a CEO.

There is absolutely no doubt that HR personnel can become CEOs of companies. But before answering the question, we should know what the HR or Human Resources department is all about. Also, we need to understand how the career growth of HR happens.

An Overview 

Human Resources deals with workforce management in any organization. Furthermore, their work includes developing the employees, managing them along with recruiting and retaining human talent. Some people think that HR don’t have any challenge in their job, this is not true at all. An HR has to face a lot of challenges in their job to achieve success. In general, The HR department is responsible for the following activities:

  • Creating development, orientation and training programs
  • Overseeing employee compensation and benefits
  • Handling the recruitment, selection, and promotion of workforce
  • Allocating employees and managing the human resources available

Common knowledge points to people from other major domains like marketing or sales, finance and production being the obvious choices for HRs to take CEO positions in companies.

Whereas, people from the HR domain are concerned with human management and operational work most of the time. Hence, it becomes quite difficult for them to understand the strategic viewpoint in which the CEOs need to think for taking various decisions. A decision like diversifying and selling parts of the businesses is important in any CEO’s life. 


For example, an expert in the finance domain may be good at crunching numbers and analyzing data, which is required to negotiate deals and form mergers. Though a CEO doesn’t need to know everything by himself or herself, it becomes an added advantage if they know how to approach such situations.

Therefore, it would be rational to assume that people in HR positions, who deal with managing, developing and retaining human talents, would be worthy candidates to lead the business. Everyone has their own work style and leadership skills. HRs are no different, their skillset differs from the rest, but these skillsets are what makes them worthy of leadership positions.

Though it is a necessity to possess such skills, however, it is not enough to have these traits alone to reach the top management level. The same applies to people from other domains as well but there is a big gap to bridge for HR professionals.

Hence, the HR people need to understand the way business is headed, the future landscape of the industry and the way the use of technology to advance their firm’s progress. Furthermore, as these traits are a part and parcel of finance, marketing or operations domain, this gap tends to be bigger for HR people. 

But nothing is impossible.

HR professionals who became the CEO

1. Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox (2001-2009)

Firstly, she began her career as a sales representative with Xerox in 1976. Her hard work earned her a vice president role in HR in 1992. She continued this job till 1995. In 2001, she got promoted to CEO. She held the position till 2009. Anne Mulcahy expresses that listening is an important trait. It had helped her gain new perspectives and make better decisions.

2. Lisa M Weber, CEO of MetLife (2004-2010)

In 1994, she worked as the Senior VP of HR at PaineWebber, an investment banking firm. Next, she got an opportunity to lead the HR department at MetLife in 1998, which she gladly accepted. Moreover, she became the company’s president in 2004.

She specifically says that working as an HR professional just for the heck of it won’t open the doors to higher management. Additionally, she emphasizes that to become a successful CEO, it is essential to demonstrate to capacity to lean and lead a business.

3. Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors (2014-present)

She graduated from the General Motors Institute with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. After holding several engineering and administrative positions, she became the VP of Global HR for GM in 2009. The diverse positions that she had held at GM helped her in becoming the first female CEO of the company in 2014.

She expresses her views by saying that it is important to create an environment where people voice their concerns and feel valued. Constructive criticism is a way to promote decision making. And bringing in more people from diverse areas helps her evaluate things from different angles.

To cut a long story short, an HR professional can become the CEO of a company. If he/she is open to learning the business and looking at things with broader perspectives. After all, as HR professionals commonly say, “Human resources isn’t a thing we do; it’s the thing that runs the business”.

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