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Breeding Grounds for New CEOs


Boards are looking to the likes of Google, Cisco, and Infosys as well as longer-established blue chips for business leaders in the making

With their deep pools of talent and vaunted leadership training, General Electric (GE), PepsiCo (PEP), and Procter & Gamble (PG) have long been popular places to poach talent. While those credentials still dazzle in a CEO search, other breeding grounds are emerging. Recruiters increasingly look at some midtier players, companies in emerging markets, and such tech icons as Cisco Systems (CSCO) and Google (GOOG).

Some of the centers of excellence are hardly household names. Headhunters point to Swiss electrical engineering player ABB (ABB) and diverse manufacturer Danaher (DHR) in Washington, D.C., as excellent training places for future leaders. The record of $12.7 billion Danaher is already strong, having produced CEOs for such industrial companies as Belden (BDC), IDEX (IEX), and Polaris Industries (PII). "It's not on the tip of everyone's tongue," notes Korn/Ferry International (KFY) partner Dennis Carey, "but their business process is far superior to anything I've ever seen."

In consumer goods, recruiters say Campbell Soup (CPB) has a particularly rich stable of talent. The reason: CEO Douglas R. Conant makes it a priority to develop strong leaders. Unilever (UL), too, has been the source of several high-profile names in recent years.

Headhunters also see India's Infosys Technologies (INFY) as a new hunting ground. Chairman N.R. Narayana Murthy calls himself the company's "chief mentor" and has launched a program that lets managers work at nongovernmental organizations for a year to broaden their leadership skills. He has also set up a 334-acre training institute in Mysore that dwarfs GE's Crotonville (N.Y.) education center. No wonder about a half a dozen Infosys executives are currently being considered for CEO posts.

McGregor is BusinessWeek's management editor.

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