C-level Executive Positions Explained

C-level executives all have Chief in their title. These executives form the decision making, power centre of a corporation and are all appointed by the Board of Directors. Whilst these jobs are well paid, they come with the enormous responsibility to make the company profitable.  

The larger the company, the more C-level executives it will have. It is common, in the early days of a company, for the Founder to be the CEO, but as the company grows, the Board of Directors may decide to appoint an expert CEO with proven abilities in growth strategies, whilst the Founder takes a role more suited to their expertise. Shares may be allocated to C-level executives as an incentive to achieve targets.

CEO – Chief Executive Officer

The chief executive officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking executive in a company, whose primary responsibilities include making major corporate decisions, managing the overall profitability and functioning of a company, acting as the main point of communication between the Board of Directors (the Board) and corporate operations, and being the public face of the company. A CEO is elected by the Board and its shareholders.

A CEO’s role varies according to the company’s size, culture, and corporate structure. There is more separation of duties in larger organisations where the CEO typically deals with high-level strategy and related decisions, and works with his executives to achieve the profitability and growth aims of the company. In smaller companies, the CEO is often more hands-on and involved with day-to-day operations of the company. However, whether the company is large or small, the CEO is the public face of the company and responsible for positioning the company positively in the marketplace.

COO – Chief Operating Officer

As the title implies, the Chief Operating Office is responsible for overseeing the operations of the company. This means they are involved in overseeing the day-to-day administration and operational functions of the business. The COO will report to the CEO and is second in the hierarchy of command.  

The job of the COO is to execute the company’s business plans as determined by the strategy. So, whilst the CEO focuses on long-term goals and the wider company outlook, the COO focuses on implementing the current strategies. The size of the company will determine the breadth of roles played by the COO. In general, a COO is responsible for the rollout of new product lines, research and development and may even have to oversee the implementation of the marketing department.  Whilst the CEO is the public face of the company, the COO focuses internally to ensure that the company operates efficiently and achieves the targets set in the business plan.  Therefore, the COO needs to be an experienced businessperson capable of devising operational strategies, developing strong policies and communicating these to employees, as well as helping to build a strong execution team. The job demands excellent problem-solving skills and a robust knowledge of the mechanics of running a business.

CFO – Chief Financial Officer

The Chief Financial Officer is responsible for managing the finance and accounting divisions of the company and has the responsibility of ensuring that the company financial records and reports are accurate and completed in the designated time. Furthermore, the CFO has to ensure that the company is fully compliant with taxation and accounting standards such as GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) and regulations governing fraud and disclosure of financial information. This is a critical position and the CFO is third in the chain of command and reports to the CEO and the Board of Directors.

It is also the job of the CFO to manage the cash flow and do all the financial planning associated with the business strategy and the current operations.  The CFO will also analyse the company’s performance and report back on strengths and weaknesses and proposed actions that need to be taken to correct identified problems.

CIO – Chief Information Officer and CTO – Chief Technology Officer

Technology changes at a rapid pace and this has resulted in changes to the titles of executives who oversee the technology and data of organisations. Previously a Chief Information Officer was responsible for the organisation’s technology needs, its research and development as well as being responsible for the management, implementation, and usability of information and computer technologies. Due to the complexity of today’s technology, some of the larger organisations have separated these duties, and the CIO plays a strategic role that focuses on how future technologies will impact on the business, and proposes strategic technology shifts.  This job also requires strategies to maximise the use of technologies to provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. The CTO would then be more focused on implementing the technology solutions required by the strategic plans, and maintaining the efficient and cost-effective use of current technologies deployed by the company.

The advent of cloud computing, wireless communications, big-data analytics, bring your own technologies and mobile devices, means that CIOs need to develop strategies and computer systems that keep businesses competitive in a fast-changing global marketplace. If you consider how technology has completely disrupted industries such as transport (think of how Uber has impacted on the taxi industry) and finance (mobile money, cryptocurrencies etc.), one realises that this job requires the prediction of how future technology trends will impact the business.  AI, robotics and biotech are under the radar now!

In smaller companies that cannot afford the luxury of separation of duties, the CTO will perform the duties of both the CIO and the CTO.

CMO – Chief Marketing Officer

The Chief Marketing Officer is the executive responsible for developing and overseeing the marketing and advertising plans necessary to achieve the strategy goals. The job involves developing the corporate branding strategy, advertising and marketing channels, as well as customer outreach initiatives. In large organisations, this role carries the responsibility of ensuring the marketing strategy is implemented in all geographic regions, and applies to all the company product lines. CMOs are also very involved in product development, customer service and pricing and sales management. 

In smaller companies, the CEO tends to oversee the marketing initiatives and will be responsible for developing marketing strategies.  Depending upon the size of a company, a marketing professional may be employed to execute marketing initiatives.

Source: Robynne Erwin, Finfind Consultant.