Over the past two weeks, I’ve written about the CHRO’s role in CEO succession planning and the CHRO’s role in CEO selection. In this last installment of our CEO series we’re turning our lens to CHROs who have their eye on the top spot and asking whether they could be viable candidates for CEO.

There are examples of CEOs with a background in HR, such as Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors; Leena Nair, the global CEO of Chanel; Tricia Griffith, CEO of Progressive Insurance; Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox; Nigel Travis, the former CEO of Dunkin’ Brands.

But those are exceptions, says Stephen Patscot, a partner at Spencer Stuart, and most of them also worked in non-HR functions before becoming CEO.

On the other hand, Noah Shamosh, another partner at Spencer Stuart, points out that, in many ways, CHROs have what it takes to be the CEO: a relationship with their board, an understanding of “complex people dynamics,” experience leading large teams, and because of HR analytics, an ability to get results and measure them, he adds.

So is there a real path from CHRO to CEO? And if so, what does it take?

“It's an unusual path, but I think it's become more viable,” says Michael Useem, a professor of management at Wharton. “And that's because the CHRO role has been so elevated in stature and impact.”

For insights on how CHROs can position themselves as potential CEO successors,  I spoke to:

  • Stephen Patscot, who worked in HR at General Electric for over two decades and is the leader of Spencer Stuart’s North American HR practice and a member of the firm’s leadership advisory and CEO practices.
  • Coco Brown, the founder and CEO of the Athena Alliance, an executive education company, and a board member at ArcherPoint.
  • Noah Shamosh, a consultant at Spencer Stuart and a member of the firm’s leadership advisory services.
  • Michael Useem, a professor of management at Wharton and the author of several books on boards and CEOs.

Here's their advice:

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