Want to be a CEO? Being an executive is a crucial first step, but not all leadership roles are likely to lead to the corner office.

LeadingCompany analysed the backgrounds of the ASX100 CEOs, and discovered most were promoted after delivering results in their own little fiefdom. The rest of them were chief operating officers and chief financial officers, leaving other C-suite positions out in the cold.

Australia’s top boards are opting for leaders who’ve either already demonstrated leadership success, or who bring operational mastery to the chief role.

Almost half (40) of ASX100 CEOs were promoted after heading a division of a company, often an overseas subsidiary or specialised business segment. This allowed them the chance to demonstrate to company boards their leadership in their own principality where they were in charge, making them an attractive pick for CEO.

But operational expertise was also important: just under one in four (23) ASX100 CEOs held the chief operating officer role before being promoted.

COOs were closely rivalled by chief financial officers — 16 ASX100 CEOs held the CFO role just before they go the call-up. One CEO, Brian Benari, doubled his chances by serving as Challenger’s joint CFO/COO before becoming top dog.

Take out divisional heads, COOs and CFOs, and you’re left with slim pickings for the other members of the C-suite. Two names on our list, Julian Segal at Caltex and Nick Curtis at Lynas Corporation, served as heads of marketing just before the board pulled them up. Three more — Greg Hywood at Fairfax, Robert Velletri at Monadelphous and Geoff Plummer at OneSteel — are skilled professionals who were appointed first as directors before being given the top role. Marius Kloppers was BHP’s chief commercial officer before his promotion, while Atlas Iron’s Ken Brinsden was chief development officer.

No ASX100 leader held the role of chief information officer roles before their current CEO position. Also absent from the list were chief human resource officers, despite this role having recently broken into the C-suite. The four women on the list came from backgrounds not dissimilar to most of the men.  Nine CEOs held their positions by dint of having founded their company, or were related to the company’s founders.

The takeout from this is clear. If you want to be a CEO, push for your own fiefdom where you aren’t answering to anyone else on a day-to-day basis. Deliver there, and the world’s your oyster.

We were interested in the path to becoming a CEO, rather than how to become a CEO of an ASX100, so in cases where someone was a CEO at another company before being bought over to their current position (quite a common occurrence), we counted their last held non-CEO position.

Founders, and those related either by marriage or lineage to company founders, are listed as such. American titles such as “president” or “vice-president” have been given Australian equivalents.

The biggest difficulty in doing this sort of thing is that companies rarely have the same names for the members of their executive suite. Whereas positions such as COO and CFO are fairly common, and fairly uniform, when it comes to executive heads of divisions, the whole thing gets very complicated. We’ve included the full title of CEOs whose previous position wasn’t a conventional C-suite role.

We could tell where someone had responsibility for a particular function (such as finance, human resources or operations) on a company-wide basis and when they were in charge of only a particular segment of a business. We grouped divisional heads together.

And lastly, the highest-ranked executive at a few companies had the title of managing director. We counted them as CEOs.

*Read the full list of executives and their backgrounds at LeadingCompany