Definitions and Examples of C-Suite Executives
When you think of C-suite executives, you likely think about some of the most powerful men and women in American business: Tim Cook of Apple, Elon Musk of Tesla, Mary Barra of General Motors Corporation or Mark Zuckerberg of Meta (Facebook). These CEOs, along with other members of the C-suite, help design and manage some of the best-known products and services in the world. While some of these well-known CEOs created the companies they now lead, others like Cook and Barra, worked their way to the top of their companies over many years of hard work.
The term "C-suite" derives from the titles of these senior executives, such as chief executive officer, chief marketing officer and chief security officer. These C-suite executives ensure the different departments of a company work together to achieve its policies and plans.
What Do C-Suite Executives Do?
Each executive is responsible for a particular area within a company's hierarchy. For instance, the chief financial officer prepares budgets and oversees company expenses. The chief technology officer oversees the company's technology development and provides security. The C-suite operates one step below the board of directors, although some members of the C-suite may also sit on the board.
The number of C-suite executives differs from company to company. Smaller companies and businesses may only have two or three C-suite executives. Midsize companies may have seven or eight, while large companies can have 17 or more. The number of C-suite executives depends on the number of areas considered essential to the company's success and how that workload is managed. A company involved in recycling or sustainability may need a chief green officer, while a startup specializing in cutting-edge products or services may require a chief innovation officer.
Most large companies' C-suite-level executives don't oversee the organization's day-to-day operations. V-suite executives like vice presidents or D-suite executives such as directors of various departments fulfill these duties. The employee levels below the C-suite usually depend on each company's corporate structure.
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C-Suite Executive Positions
While not every business may have as many as 10 or 12 different members of the C-suite, some positions are common to most companies. These include:
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The most important member of the C-suite and the top executive within a company. Most other members of the C-suite report to the CEO. They are responsible for hiring the other members of the C-suite and usually serve as the face of the company. Notable people who've held this title include Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
The CEO relies on the information provided to him by other members of the C-suite to make crucial decisions. They use this information to implement the strategies and policies that can create a successful business.
A CEO can come from any background. It's not unusual for a company to hire a CEO who's been successful in a different industry. Usually, the CEO reports only to the board of directors of which they are a member. In some companies, the CEO is also referred to as the company president.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Responsible for the company's financial portfolio, budget and investment strategy, the CFO is the top position in a company, usually obtained by someone with a background in accounting or a financial analysis. CFOs require a global outlook and work with the CEO to develop new business opportunities. When they find them, they analyze their potential financial risks and benefits.
The CFO is sometimes known as the chief financial and operating officer (CFOO), especially in a small business where titles can often be grouped. The CFO usually sits on the board of directors. Their job is also to ensure that the company has a positive cash flow and spends its capital appropriately, always aiming to stay within budget.
Chief Operating Officer (COO)
A COO typically oversees the company's day-to-day operations and is second in command to the CEO. They're sometimes known as the executive vice president of operations. Tasks include administration, staffing, recruitment and strategy. If a company doesn't have a chief human resources officer, the COO can assume these human resource functions, which often happens in smaller organizations.
The COO usually sits on the board of directors with the CEO and the CFO.
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Chief Information Officer (CIO)
Some of the skills necessary for a CIO position include programming, mapping, coding and project management. They can apply the skills in various areas, including finance, risk management and business strategy. They also manage research and development, and ensure that any new technologies adopted by the company align with its goals and strategy.
The CIO is not necessarily the same as the chief technology officer but can serve that purpose in smaller businesses.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Previously the CIO and the CTO positions were filled by the same person in many businesses. However, as technology has played an increasingly important role in many companies' operations, the need to separate the positions has become more urgent. The CTO's responsibilities include overseeing any information system the company uses to run its operations and researching new technologies and how they might benefit the company. They help keep the company competitive and up-to-date with what's happening in technology.
Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Many CMOs start their careers as sales representatives before becoming sales managers, often advancing to the role of vice president of sales. They may also have started on the marketing side. CMOs develop a deep knowledge of a company's audience and customers.
These days, they must understand how to use social media for marketing their products, building community and heightening brand awareness. They also work on innovation and product development in brick-and-mortar outlets and lead the company's use of marketing campaigns around current and new products.
Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)
The CCO ensures the company's employees, business practices and processes operate under predetermined guidelines. This position can be significant for a company required to make regular compliance reports to a state or federal agency.
Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)
In smaller companies, this position can be fulfilled by the COO. However, larger companies usually employ a CHRO. The CHRO oversees recruitment, onboarding, compliance with a company's policies, such as sexual harassment, and its benefits policies like health care or time off.
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Additional C-Suite Level Positions
As companies grow larger or move into new areas, they may add additional C-suite positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that US companies' number of executive positions will grow by about 8% over the next decade.
Some of the new C-suite positions include:
- Chief Green Officer (CGO): As more companies care about making their workplaces environmentally friendly, the role of the CGO grows in importance. This position can be needed from the beginning of the construction of a new building, ensuring that there is a recycling policy in place including older computers or other electronic gear and meeting OSHA standards for a healthy working environment.
- Chief Privacy Officer (CPO): With many companies experiencing daily attacks from hackers or ransomware trying to steal customers' or company data, the chief privacy officer develops and implements strategies designed to protect it.
- Chief Procurement Officer (CPO): The CPO is responsible for a company's purchase of supplies, services and other materials.
- Chief Learning Officer (CLO): The CLO manages the ongoing education and training of the company's employees. This can include a company's emotional awareness training program, team building exercises, conferences and work retreats. All these activities are designed to support the company's goals and strategies.
- Chief IT Architect (CITA): When companies have numerous computer and digital systems to manage, the CITA integrates these networks and enables their employees to carry out tasks seamlessly.
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Crucial Skills for C-Suite Executives
When hired to fulfill an important executive-level position, these individuals carry out several vital functions necessary to C-suite members. These skills include:
- Thinking strategically and articulating a vision for the company's future.
- Developing a plan to implement that vision.
- Building an enthusiastic team around that vision.
- Effectively communicating the concept to all company employees.
- Working with other members of the C-suite to carry out the strategic vision, drawing upon their expertise and skills in crucial areas.
- Delegating tasks effectively, ensuring the right team is working on the right project.
- Using key metrics to ensure growth and performance.
How to Become a C-Suite Executive
Almost all C-suite members require leadership experience and advanced education. However, there are additional ways to add weight to your efforts to become a C-suite executive.
Gain Experience in Your Industry
While companies sometimes hire successful CEOs from other industries, most other C-suite positions require deep experience in a relevant field. Medical companies, for instance, will require C-suite members to be familiar with the medical industry. Companies usually require at least five years in an important leadership role and 10 years of experience overall.
While executives may focus on one area within the company, they often have experience in several different areas of that industry.
Most C-suite positions require at least a bachelor's degree in an area related to that position. However, hiring processes for these positions can be highly competitive. Additional education improves your chances of getting the job, especially if you have an MBA, a master's in a related field or an advanced certification.
Seek Leadership Experience
When opportunities present themselves, look for ways to develop your leadership skills. Almost every C-suite position requires you to lead a department or oversee an important area effectively. If possible, seek out managerial roles that will allow you to develop these skills. The more initiative you show, the more it will be noticed.
Don't Be Shy About Your Goals
Let your supervisors or managers know your goal is to be a C-suite executive one day. While being pushy about it may work against you, occasionally take a moment when you're in discussions with your supervisors or managers to expand on your wish to be a member of the C-suite one day.
Find a Mentor
Many C-suite executives are interested in mentoring younger employees. A mentor will help you review your goals, provide honest feedback about strengths and weaknesses, offer suggestions on how to improve those weaknesses and help point you in the right overall direction. They can also help you to be realistic about your chances of becoming a C-suite executive one day.
Use Current Technologies to Get Noticed
Write a regular blog on your industry. Seek out trade magazines looking for articles from industry writers. Think about regularly posting your thoughts on YouTube or Instagram. Seek out speaking engagements at appropriate conferences or use social media to reach out to people in your industry. Write an e-book on your industry and post it on Amazon or other self-publishing platforms for anyone to download.
Develop Communication Skills
Regardless of the position, C-suite executives need to be excellent communicators. It's not unusual to read about someone elevated to a C-suite status but who cannot communicate their ideas and vision to other C-suite members or company employees. If you have trouble communicating, seek out organizations such as Toastmasters that help you learn to be a better speaker.
C-suite executives must develop many skills and talents to provide the leadership needed in their companies. As a result, they are the best companies' best-paid employees. The BLS based the median average of a C-suite executive at $107,680. ZipRecruiter placed it at $148,709 in April 2021. Meanwhile, Salary.com had the median executive salary at $203,034.
Also, Salary.com placed the average annual salary of C-level executives as:
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO): $754,713.
- Chief Operations Officer (COO): $457,468.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO): $363,559.
- Chief Information Officer (CIO): $266,171.
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO): $234,700.
- Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): $230,144
C-suite executives play critical roles in a company. They develop strategic goals and policies, provide the leadership to empower employees to achieve these goals and help build the company's brand among customers and the public. A talented and diverse group of C-suite executives is one of the most important parts of building a successful company and brand.
About the Author
Tom Regan has worked for several media outlets in Canada in the United States including the CBC, NPR, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor. He also served several years as the Executive Director of the Online News Association.