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There’s No Elevator to the Top

Title:  There’s No Elevator to the Top

Author: Umesh Ramakrishnan

ISBN: 978-1-59184-225-5


Umesh Ramakrishnan is vice chairman of the global executive search firm CTPartners. He recruits CEOs, CFOs Directors and other senior management positions for Global 200 Companies. In this book he shraes his experience gleaned during his long recruiting career and also from exclusive interviews with some of the world’s top executives, such as Steve Reinemund of Pepsi and Bill Amelio of Lenovo. For instance he asks them:_

  • What do you know now that you wish you had known twenty years ago?
  • How did you become an effective communicator?

As Ramakrisham writes “The overriding theme gleaned from the dozens of executives I spke with is that there is no elevator to the top. In fact, several told me that you should avoid a speedy rise, as the faster you rise the quicker you fall.”


This is one of the most insightful books I have read on what it takes to get to the top but not only get there but stay there as an effective leader. It is refreshing that Umesh has not just put his views across but the actual opinions of those who have done it for themselves – real people rather than the normal authors theorising about something they ahve never experienced for themselves the. The powerful real experiences of these indivudals is brought to life by Umesh and is of real benefit to those who aspire to real leadership positions. I found it an easy rerad through a well structured book containg many relevant anecdotes and experiences for people to understand, develop or rediscover their  leadership qualities.



Even in the introduction there is relevance to todays economic climate in that Ramakrishnan states that ” As the world changes, so do its leaders. When the economy is doing well, you tend to meet leaders who are people-orientated, persuasive and sensitive. When the economy dips, the leaders in greatest denmand are those who are tough, excating and able to amke the really diificult calls that can affect large numbers of people (like laying off thousands of workers). Most relevant  in todays climate.

The structure of each paragraph is well thoughtout with a summary of key massages at the end of each chapter. This makes it an easy refernce tool.

First Steps

Steve  Reinemund of Pepsi said there’s a difference between driving to acheive excellence in what you’re doing and driving to achieve career development and advancement. ” If you do the first one well the second will come.”Never stop learning” is the other message. “Always strive to improve your skills and broaden your knowledge even as you ascend the ladder and get closer to your goal..”, Ron Williams of AETNA says “I always encourage people to take workshops, seminars, get out of their foxhole, talk to other executives in simialr or different industries… inspiration comes when you have knowledge about a situation.”

Boarding Pass

Ramakrishnan comments ojn trait theory in this chapter. ” leadership skills can be acquired, according to many executives I interviewed. “Many people say you are a born leader or you are not a born leader,” Sanjiv Ahuja of Orange said, but I think there are those people who you can observe as learning to become good leaders.” These views are shared by Russ Fradin of Hewitt who said that “Anyone can aspire to – and become- CEO material, as long as they have the right tools.”

This ties into the point that at some point in their career of an executive they move from being a “tactical thinker to a strategic one..If one does not make this move or is not self-aware enough to recognise that he or she needs to make this move, they will forever be stuck in minutiae.”

As to contuniung professional development Aetna’s Ron Williams said “The way I think about it is, if you were trying to grow your earnings fifteen percet than what are you doing to actually make yourself a better executive… In fact for most people who get to the very top there is no option but to continue learning. because as Bill Nuti, CEO of NCR Corporation, put it, “the skills that got you there are not the skills that will make you successful as a leader.” This is a good point in that most individuals are technically competent at their job but will not necessarily have had the skills required to move into management.

You Are the Sum of Your Parts

Jim Donald, former CEO of Starbucks said “The best thing that you can do is surround yourself with people- an entire team of people – in which each individual is capable of doing your job better than you are.” Sanjiv Ahuja agreed: “Always have your team stronger than you individually. Hire people who are smarter than you.” He thinks good team building is “the hallmark of a leader.”Terry marks of Coca-Cola agreed that part of being a great captain is knowing how to bring out each player’s strengths.

Getting the Message Across

Good communication = Great leadership is the message in this chapter concludes Ramakrishnan.Todd Stitzer iof Cadbury Schweppes summed it up well ” Leadership without communication is impossible.” This  isn’t just one way either. it’s a case of “don’t just hear what’s been said: Listen”

What’s in a Leader?

Rick Dreiling of Duane Reade sees the most vital leadership attributes: in addition to clarity, both in the way they communicate and in the way way they frame goals , Dreiling also emphasised the importance of paying attention to the needs of the people working for them.”Steve Teinemund had his own model of leadership : “I think about it as head, heart and hands. A leader needs to have a strong, sound head, caring and passionate (heart) and a skilled set of hands.”

Sanjiv Ahuja said “it’s much harder to find good leadership than industry skills. Good leaders can learn the necessary technical skills.”

Overall an excellent read with some powerful lessons for aspiring senior managers and future leaders.

For more information on developing leadership skills view our Leadership Training Course

"Experience plus reflection equals learning" - John Dewey