Can Data Scientists become CEO?

This is a question we get asked frequently.

The answer is……. it depends (Shock!), but the chances are pretty slim ☹

Although don’t worry as the chances of other technical job functions becoming CEO’s are also pretty rare at present.

“Can Data Scientists / Analysts become CEO’s” is not the right question in my opinion; I will come back to this later.

There is no reason why a Data Scientist can’t become a CEO; There are former Data Scientists that have achieved the position of  CEO

–         Sebastian Thrun : GoogleX, Udacity

–         Clive Humby : CACI

–         Thomas Thurston  : Growth Science

The thing to remember though is that the office of CEO is a specific role and requires a rare skillset  – leadership, financial acumen, business sense, strategic thinking, communication etc. Some skills you are born with but many can be developed over time.

It is worth noting that all those names above started their own companies rather than climbing a corporate ladder to reach the office. It is hard to name a CEO of a major company who was once a Data Scientist or started in Data Analytics. (If anyone can please let me know)

More traditional industries offer a lot of hope for data scientists though. Actuaries are the Data Scientists of Insurance and that industry is littered with examples of Actuaries who have gone on to lead companies and work at Board level. Data has been crucial to the Insurance industry for a long time, and as it becomes more strategic in other industries then I’m sure we will see more commercial leaders coming from a data background.

A better question to ask is whether Data Scientists have more opportunity to become CEO’s 10-20 years from now. The answer is clearly a ‘YES’, as business is becoming more data driven and a strong understanding of Data will become a prerequisite for CEO’s.

However, and here is the crucial point, Data Scientists won’t be in line for the top job just because they are a data person. It will be a contributing factor in their skills make up, but they will require all the other attributes that go into being a successful CEO: Integrity, Honesty, Drive, Tenacity, strategic vision, Team building, the application of Intellectual Horsepower to business, great leadership skills etc.

Much of the above can be developed through the right career trajectory, so I’d encourage any data scientists / analysts with commercial leadership ambitions to research their career path and trajectory closely to give themselves the best chance.

Therefore, the most relevant question to ask is – “What does a Data Scientist need to do over the next 10-20 years to give themselves the skills & experience to become a CEO?”

More on that next time………..