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Getting to the heart of CEO excellence

Scott, Vik, and Carolyn, senior partners at McKinsey and the authors of CEO Excellence, combined extensive quantitative analysis with in-depth interviews with today’s top CEOs to understand what sets exceptional leaders apart.

What makes the world’s most best CEOs so successful?

That’s the question the just-released book CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets That Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest sets out to answer.

The book is the brainchild of Carolyn Dewar, Vik Malhotra, and Scott Keller, three McKinsey senior partners who regularly serve the leaders of the world’s largest organizations and conduct leadership training workshops for rising executives. At McKinsey, where even junior tenured professionals work with CEOs on a regular basis and counsel them on how to run their organizations, defining the characteristics of CEO excellence is an important foundation—and the idea for the book was born.

“You see many excellent books written about leadership. You will find a lot of books written by individual CEOs about their journeys. We were unable to find a book that defines an excellent CEO. It wasn’t clear to us how we could quickly articulate it, which is why we thought, let’s do the deep research. Let’s get into the minds of great CEOs,” says Vik.

That they did. The team analyzed more than 20 years’ worth of data on 7,800 CEOs from 3,500 public companies across 70 countries and 24 industries to identify CEOs whose actions have led to breakaway success. Then they interviewed 67 of the 200 CEOs who met vital criteria, including sustainability, performance, and ethical behavior, to learn about the skills and practices that have driven their success.

Here we meet the authors behind this groundbreaking book—and learn what the work means to them.

Carolyn Dewar

Carolyn Dewar
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Carolyn is a 21-year veteran of McKinsey and a senior partner based in San Francisco. She co-leads McKinsey’s CEO Excellence service line and advises many Fortune 100 CEOs on how to maximize their effectiveness and lead their organizations through pivotal moments. She also serves on the faculty of McKinsey’s client master classes for sitting CEOs and those preparing for the role.

One of Carolyn’s goals for the book was to demystify the role of CEO. “CEOs have extraordinary influence on our lives day to day, in the countries and communities they serve and the teams they lead.”

While the role comes with immense responsibility, she adds, “It’s a role you can learn, and it’s a role you can experience and live into as opposed to it being a secret club that you either are in or not.”

Scott Keller

Scott Keller
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Scott co-leads the CEO Excellence service line with Carolyn. He’s based in Southern California and has been with the firm for 25 years. He is committed to bringing the best of psychology, social science, and the field of human potential to the workplace.

For Scott, who has already written six books, this one was particularly exciting. “It feels like a dream coming to fruition,” he says. “We’re on a stage where we can share more information with more leaders about how to run organizations to bring the best out of people—places where people can thrive and not just come to work to survive.”

Vikram (Vik) Malhotra

Vikram Malhotra
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Vik is a senior partner in New York. For 35 years, he has served clients across a range of industries and his consulting experience covers performance transformation, corporate strategy, business-unit strategy, growth strategy, organizational effectiveness, and operational improvement.

Much of Vik’s current focus is on counseling CEOs and boards, and he is passionate about topics that matter to senior leadership. He believes the book offers a primer for any person who wants to be a strong leader, whether they are on the path to becoming a CEO or not.

“[CEO Excellence] is a book about leadership broadly,” he says. “It’s certainly a book about how one might excel in life more broadly. If great leaders can lead well, maybe I can learn something from this. Maybe I, too, can take away some nugget, some view, some wisdom I can apply in my life broadly.”

The book offers an insider look at the mindsets of leading CEOs such as Mary Barra of GM, Reed Hastings of Netflix, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, and many more.

More about the authors

Carolyn was born and raised in Canada and studied economics and international relations at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Outside of work, she enjoys the California sunshine, cooking from the bounty of farmers markets, and sharing her love of art with her young children and husband.

Scott spent his early consulting years working on business strategy and operational topics until his second child was born with profound special needs. After taking time off to attend to his family, Scott returned to McKinsey with a renewed focus on elevating human potential in the workplace.

He is co-founder of Digital Divide Data and one of a few hundred people in history known to have traveled to every country in the world. His favorite place is Seal Beach, California, where he lives with his wife and three sons.

Vik is active with major nonprofits outside of McKinsey. He currently serves as chairman of the board at the Wharton Graduate School (University of Pennsylvania) and is a trustee of The New York City Partnership, trustee emeritus of the Asia Society, and a former trustee of The Conference Board. He earned his undergraduate degree from the London School of Economics in 1980 and has an MBA from Wharton. Outside of work, he enjoys life with his wife and three adult children.

Learn more about the book and the authors here.

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