Big Picture

Think Like a CEO – Anyone Can Do It

Theodore (Ted) Clark

As someone who has taken an unlikely career path, starting as an entry level shipping clerk and rising to CEO, I credit my success to curiosity, willpower and self-directed learning. This, along with great mentors, enabled me to think like a CEO from the start.   

As an entry level shipping clerk for a chemical manufacturing company, I began to envision what I could do to make the job more interesting. After gaining some experience and understanding the workflow, I thought I could provide better service to my internal “customers” — my colleagues in our customer service, planning, production, engineering and quality departments.  

At the time, it was standard for customer service to call shipping to find out whether an order they were following up on was ready to ship. My job was to check the order file and let them know if it was in the shipping department and, if so, when it would be shipped. If the order was not in shipping customer service would need to call around to other departments to try to find it, a time-consuming and frustrating process for them.   

I realized that it would be easy for me to check the other departments for the orders, as part of my job was to drive a forklift through the factory every few hours moving goods from one department to another. As it would be a simple change in my work process, I suggested to customer service that I look for the orders in the other departments and report back to them. I could speed up the response time to the customer and it would make my job more interesting. My method worked and I was quickly recognized for my initiative. 

 Looking back, I now recognize that my thought process was a kind of visioning. It was my “vision” to be of service and improve communication between departments by just doing this relatively simple thing. My “objective”, I realize now, was to improve the order status process and my “strategy” was to create a positive synergy by doing this simple incremental activity while otherwise following my normal routine. My “tactic” was to look for the order in each department, find it, and ask the supervisor when the order would be ready so that I could report this status back to customer service and they could give the customer an order status update.  

 My way of thinking helped me stand out and I was quickly promoted, then promoted again. At each subsequent promotion I continued to think like a CEO, each time developing a vision, setting an objective, and developing strategy and tactics to actualize the vision.  

 Here are some pointers to help you think like a CEO:  

  1. Develop your vision– A vision is a mental image of what you intend to do and accomplish. Keep it simple and write it down. It could be as straightforward as, “My vision is to increase our department response time in order to increase customer satisfaction.”
  2. Set your objectives– Once you have your vision statement you need to set the objectives to actualize the vision. These could be reducing response time by 50 percent or scoring a 15 percent improvement in customer engagement surveys, or creating a financial metric like cost per response. Whatever you choose it should make a real difference and be measurable so that you’ll know when you’ve actualized your vision. 
  3. Devise your strategies– With your objectives in place you’ll need to develop a strategy to meet them. A strategy is a plan of action or policy designed to achieve your overall aim. For example, the strategy to reduce response times is to implement a new process in which you organize all your data in one place, making it easier and faster to respond to customer inquiries. 
  4. Execute with clear tactics– While strategy is the plan that takes you where you want to go, tactics are individual steps that you take along the way. Your tactic to execute your strategy could be to set up a central file in which to review customer inquiries daily, respond to them before the end of the same day, and keep track of the number of daily customer inquiries and daily responses to ensure you meet your daily goal.

Thinking like a CEO involves creating a vision, setting objectives, and developing strategies and tactics to give you more control over your work, and make it more interesting and less stressful. It’s a way to become more productive and to broaden your perspective about what you can accomplish. At least that’s how it worked for me. 


Written by Theodore (Ted) Clark.

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Theodore (Ted) Clark
Theodore (Ted) Clark is a businessman, entrepreneur, and investor with more than 40 years’ experience as a senior executive in both public and private equity owned specialty chemical companies. He now consults with business managers on acquisitions and growth strategies using private equity capital. His book, Shipping Clerk to CEO: The Power of Curiosity, Will, and Self-Directed Learning (Dudley Court Press, March 8, 2022), chronicles his journey from an inexperienced high school graduate starting as an entry-level shipping clerk to his rise at 42 years old to CEO, what he and his team achieved in the five years he led PRC, and the lessons he learned along the way.


Theodore (Ted) Clark is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.