Big Business CareerWritten by Christine Hitt On 19 November 2010
8 Steps to Becoming a CEO

Last month, The Wahine Forum, presented by Hawaii Business and The Junior League of Honolulu, hosted a discussion about how to work your way up the business ladder into the CEO suite.

Janet Liang, president of Kaiser Permanente, Hawaii Region; Gwen Pacarro, complex manager for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney; and, Margery Bronster, partner in the law firm of Bronster Hoshibata and former Attorney General, gave these synonymous key messages.

1.     Volunteer for committees or boards.
Joining a board or committee allows you to practice the skills needed to be a CEO with less risk.  “But, don’t just pick any one,” says Bronster. Look around and go to the functions first to see if those are the people that you want to connect with. Pacarro also points out that it’s possible to find boards that meet during the day, or with flexible schedules, for those people with children and families.

2.     Look at what the golden boy is doing right.
Instead of criticizing the boss’ pet, “look at what the golden boy is doing right,” says Liang. Ignore what you see they are doing wrong, and look at what they are doing that is perking your boss’ interest. Once you’ve figured that out, emulate those qualities.

3.     Get people excited to follow you there.
One of the qualities of being a great leader, is having a plan of action, explaining that plan to your employees and earning their trust on your project. “Get people excited to follow you there,” says Liang. They need to know what your plans are in order to help build the support system that you need to achieve your overall goal for your company.

4.     Know how to prioritize.
Pacarro suggests using a three-circle diagram to help you prioritize. Each circle represents community, career and family. The object is to see how many times the circles intersect for each event, or work function, that you are asked to attend. So, if you plan to meet a client at a fundraiser where you can bring your family, then it encompasses everything. “The more it intersects the better,” she says.

5.     Ask your supervisor for feedback.
Instead of waiting for your supervisor to meet with you, take the initiative and ask him to give you feedback. “Let them know you want to grow,” says Pacarro. It’s important to step in and find out what you could do better.

6.     Understand your values.
Liang, Pacarro and Bronster all agree that being in a job that supports your values is important. Have your own moral compass and be consistent with values in your decision-making process. If you feel that the company you’re at conducts business against what you feel to be right, then it may be time to find another job.

7.     Take risks.
“Be prepared to take risks and get out of your comfort zone,” says Bronster. Accounting and understanding your company’s finances will be important when you get into the C-Suite. Take an accounting class and get over any fear you may have of numbers.

8.     Build a support network that you can rely on.
Getting to the top takes a lot of work with some sacrifices. But, it is important to rely on other supports to help carry you to your end goal—whether it is a relative who picks up your kids after school, your husband who cooks on certain evenings or a friend who will run a quick errand for you. Balance is important.

To hear more from Margery Bronster, Janet Liang, Gwen Pacarro and other female business leaders in Hawaii who have made it to the top, check out “Power Players,”
which appeared in the October 2010 issue of Hawaii Business.

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