More Women Are Primed To Land CEO Roles

May 13, 2015 – April 30, 2012 — Companies are grooming more women for the corner office. With a growing pool of highly qualified women and intensified investor pressure on boards to diversify corporate management teams, companies “are hiring more high-potential women who could be CEO,” says Judith von Seldeneck, head of Diversified Search, a Philadelphia executive-recruitment firm.

The ranks of female chief executives remain thin, with women in the top spot at just 35 Fortune 1000 companies. But the pipeline is promising, says Maggie Wilderotter, CEO of Frontier Communications Corp., adding that she has noticed a number of “women in waiting” at Xerox Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co., where she is a board member.

She adds that she wouldn’t be surprised if the number of major-company female CEOs doubled by 2017. At her own employer, a diversified telecom firm, half of Ms. Wilderotter’s six direct reports are women.

“If you want a CEO role, you have to prepare for it with a vengeance,” says Denise Morrison, chief of Campbell Soup Co. and Ms. Wilderotter’s sister. Ms. Morrison says she cultivated ties with leaders of other food makers by attending food-industry events in her off hours. Joining a corporate board outside their industry also helps prepare executive women for CEO spots, she adds, as directorships can show rising talent how chief executives get things done.

The next wave of women who will command major U.S. corporations likely are senior managers today. “Some phenomenally well-qualified women” hold top operational jobs, says Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont Co. Nearly 73% of Fortune 500 companies now have at least one female executive officer, though women comprise just 14% of executive officers, according to Catalyst, a New York research group. In good news for the pipeline, a study conducted by McKinsey & Co. for The Wall Street Journal, to be released Monday, found that 24% of senior vice presidents at 58 big companies are now women.

A lack of profit-and-loss experience may stall some women’s progress. Four of Douglas Conant ‘s 10 direct reports were women during most of his tenure as CEO at Campbell, but Ms. Morrison, his successor, was the only such lieutenant with P&L responsibilities.

The Journal has compiled a list of 10 female executives whose operational expertise and track record make them likely picks to lead a Fortune 1000 company within five years.

The lineup was drawn from an informal Wall Street Journal poll of 15 U.S. search firms, executive coaches and women’s organizations. Human Capital News, a newswire owned by market-research firm Hunt Scanlon Media, also surveyed 75 human-resources executives for the Journal.

The 10 top choices received support from at least two nominating groups. One popular pick— Johnson & Johnson executive Sherilyn McCoy —isn’t included because she already has a CEO perch, taking the top job at Avon Products Inc. this month. Several others have already been wooed to be chief executives elsewhere, says Clarke Murphy, CEO of recruiters Russell Reynolds Associates Inc.

Another frequent mention who isn’t on this list is Facebook Inc. executive Sheryl Sandberg, because she doesn’t work for a Fortune 1000 company—yet.

Of the 10, seven already have outside directorships. And of the nine in the group who have children, many have husbands who abandoned the fast track to support their wives’ careers.

The Wall Street Journal, by Joann S. Lublin and Kelly Eggers

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