They’re mysterious and lofty job titles, but what do they mean – and do you need them?
In the start-up scene, the most important letter in the alphabet is C. And if you see it next to the name of someone on a business card, you’ve most likely just met a person of some importance. But this ‘C suite’ of job titles – CCO, CMO, CIO and the like – is getting increasingly crowded as new technology and changing strategies create new roles with mysterious names. To wit: Google has a Chief Internet Evangelist, Kodak has had Chief Listeners who monitor brand mentions and Facebook has two Chief Privacy Officers to protect user and company data.
“The first foray into this sort of thing was when companies finally decided that IT needed a seat at the executive table and so organised Chief Information Officer titles; this occurred in the 1970s,” says Justin Pierce, program director at Torrens University Australia. “Others followed, such as Chief Technology Officer, Chief Knowledge Officer, and in some IT circles, Chief Security Officer.”
And while it’s important for graduates and employees in the workforce to know what opportunities exist at the C level, it’s also vital for entrepreneurs to know what roles are right for their start-up.
“In a free market, some earn more where others earn less. Typically you earn less when there are many others with your skill set; you earn more when your skills are rarer. It all comes down to how much value you add,” says Justin. “But if we consider the ‘O’ rather than the ‘C’, an officer of a company has special legal responsibilities and breaching them can mean a jail term. The glamour and glitz of a C position very quickly loses its shine when the weight of legal responsibility is borne on the shoulders of the bearer.”
Yet, with innovative job titles proliferating, opportunities for the C suite abound. This is your guide to understanding what everyone in the suite does – and when your company needs to make room for them.
Chief Executive Officer
What they do: At the top of the C ecosystem, CEOs oversee the executive team, company developments and public image. There’s usually only one CEO (some start-ups have two, with both having the title Co-CEO, but the balance of power can be difficult to negotiate). People management skills, financial acumen and good communication skills are a must. CEOs are the bridge between board members and the rest of the C team.
What they don’t do: Act with total autonomy. There’s a belief that CEOs can do whatever they please, but they’re usually at the behest of the chairman of the board.
When you need one: If you’re a co-founder with an amazing vision but no business experience and want someone to turn your ‘napkin idea’ into a sustainable operation.
Median salary: AU$181,000 often plus commission and stock benefits.
Insider insight: Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Jelly, says, “No matter what job you have, you can always learn more and be better. Just because you’re ‘the Chief’, it doesn’t mean you’re everything. Part of being a CEO is accumulating a wide variety of experiences, feedback and perspectives so you can come at challenges creatively. As CEO the buck stops with you. You carry weight and that feels great, but it also means you have to do uncomfortable things.”
Chief Operating Officer
What they do: It’s a little ambiguous. By definition, depending on the company, COOs oversee business operations. This can include data analysis, customer segmentation, measuring the effectiveness of production and communication strategies and, generally, greasing squeaky wheels. Often, COOs are the unsung heroes of the start-up scene because they’re so important
to the organisation’s success but stay out of the spotlight.
What they don’t do: That depends on their contract. There are calls for companies to be more transparent and clear when hiring COOs because their job descriptions can be so overarching.
When you need one: It’s generally not necessary if your operation has less than five team members. Often a co-founder will take on the title of COO and then hire a CEO with more experience or vice-versa.
Median salary: AU$153,000
Insider insight: Geoff Donaker, former COO of Yelp, says, “The COO exists to complement and strengthen the CEO – that’s the whole job. What is it the CEO has blind spots in? The areas that aren’t his or her power alley? As a result you see the role take different shape at different companies. I suspect I got the job because I was the closest thing Jeremy [Stoppelmen, Yelp’s CEO] could handle to adult supervision at the time. I work with Jeremy to crystallise his vision and communicate that to the rest of the company.”
Chief Marketing Officer
What they do: Customer acquisition and retention, brand management and market research. Being a CMO is a constantly evolving role. Their job is to tap into how customers research and buy products and then find ways to influence their user habits. As well as traditional print or billboard advertisements, new-gen CMOs know the internet is key and can be overseeing product placements in virtual reality worlds.
What they don’t do: Think inside the box. In fact, some CMOs are changing their titles to Chief Innovation Officer because their role is so much more than ‘just’ advertising.
When you need one: Once you’ve established your product and it’s time to grow. Get one earlier if you feel your customers aren’t understanding your product and you need a megaphone
for your message.
Median salary: AU$188,000
Insider insight: Gary Briggs, CMO of Facebook, says, “I think it’s never been a better time to be a CMO. The reason is that you have greater and greater ability to prove the impact of marketing. The rise of digital and social over the last 15 years has decreased the amount of subjectivity and increased the ability to demonstrate results. As agencies and marketing organisations adjust to these newer demands on skills, I’m optimistic that marketing will become an even better career and improve the CMO role further.”
Chief Financial Officer
What they do: Take responsibility for the financial risks of a company. They’re controllers, reporters and strategists, not only overseeing the capital structure of the company but also communicating with the rest of the C suite to make sure their actions (pricing, budgeting, expenses!) are financially smart. Economic forecasting is an important part of their job. They often work in tandem with a bookkeeper or an accountant.
What they don’t do: Always play it safe. It’s a misconception that all CFOs are risk-averse, as they’ll take calculated risks if it could end in a payout.
When you need one: When you require more than bean counting alone. In times of expansion, CFOs can work with banks for financing, deal with mergers, acquisitions and investment opportunities.
Median salary: AU$159,000
Insider insight: Bob Swan, former CFO of eBay, says, “I think in the early stages of my career, being a CFO was all about counting the beans. The role today, simply put, is to help grow the beans. It’s gone from [being] a bean counter to a bean nurturer. We went from a start-up to an extremely successful business. So I had to figure out how to take a very successful business from its first decade and position it for success in decade two.”
Chief Information Officer
What they do: They’re in charge of the technology and computer systems that support a company and its mission. The job title comes from the pre-internet era when the CIO would manage the mainframe computer. Now, CIOs are responsible for all digitised systems and strategies that help scale a company. As leaders, they also have to inspire employees to embrace these systems and manage any resistance to change.
What they don’t do: Coding. They generally aren’t hands-on when it comes to building technology, instead focusing on strategy, leadership and implementation.
When you need one: Useful with employees working remotely across the world, and when much of your work is done in a cloud. They also handle the security of your company data if you’re concerned about sensitive information being leaked.
Median salary: AU$190,000
Insider insight: Ben Fried, CIO at Google, says, “I’ve been in IT 30-something years. I can’t remember a time when there was so much change happening at such a rapid pace in so many parts of the technology landscape. Mobile, data, the cloud – these and 10 other technologies are all moving at incredible speed. If you’d told me before I took this job that I’d be presiding over 9000 in-house videoconferencing systems, I would have said, ‘What? That’s the CIO’s job?’ But actually, it’s a real point of pride.”
Chief Talent Officer
What they do: While the focus of a HR department can often be short-term (hiring, firing, promoting), increasingly companies are hiring CTOs to ensure that, once talent is found, they’re nurtured and leveraged. Working closely with the CEO, CTOs craft company culture and implement staff development programs. Part of their role is predicting the evolving skill sets that staff will need in the future.
What they don’t do: Depending on the company, they may not be involved in the recruitment process at all, leaving that to a HR executive and only stepping in once people are hired.
When you need one: CTOs aren’t necessary if you can fit your team around one dining table, but consider hiring one if you’re concerned by high turnover or when your staff count hits three digits, particularly if you reach the magic number of 150 staff. “I’ve talked to so many start-up CEOs [who say] that after they pass this number, weird stuff starts to happen,” says Facebook’s Chief Product Officer Chris Cox. “The weird stuff means the company needs more structure for communications and decision-making.”
Median salary: AU$244,000
Insider insight: Patty McCord, former CTO at Netflix, says, “At Netflix I worked with colleagues who were changing the way people consume filmed entertainment, which is an incredibly innovative pursuit – yet when I started there, the expectation was that I’d default to mimicking other companies’ best practices (many of them antiquated), which is how almost everyone seems to approach HR. I rejected those constraints. There’s no reason the HR team can’t be innovative too.”
Chief Digital Officer
What they do: Helping companies step into the future, they have an eye for looking at a traditional industry and revolutionising it with new technology. Some prefer the job title ‘Transformers In Chief’, changing the way products are produced, distributed or marketed by using technology to make systems run faster and smoother. Their focus is the customer and how they make an experience better for them.
What they don’t do: Have to be in the office. You can hire a virtual CDO to perform the role without taking up desk space.
When you need one: If you want to disrupt a traditional industry. A virtual reality company, for instance, might not find a CDO beneficial because their product is already at the forefront of technology.
Median salary: AU$141,000
Insider insight: Vishy Narayanan, the CDO for PwC Australia, says, “The most challenging aspect of my role is maintaining balance between the need for agility and speed while managing the risks and complexity that an increasingly connected world brings. My role requires working across multiple stakeholder groups across the entire business and our customers. It spans business, strategy, technology and implementation. This allows me to plan for the future without losing sight of delivering present-day outcomes. The best bit? I get to play with some radical new technology!”
Chief Customer Officer
What they do: The clue’s in the name. The cupid of the C-suite, the CCO’s aim is to make customers fall in love with a company – and stay in love with them. They do this by representing the consumer within an organisation, bringing the voice of the consumer to brainstorming sessions and channelling customer feedback to different departments. Basically, their goal is to bring the customer to life and tell their backstory, whether it’s through market research trips, videos or initiatives like ‘bring a customer to work’ day.
What they don’t do: Monitor all social media channels themselves. Generally they’ll work with a social media manager who’ll bring important feedback to their attention.
When you need one: Worth considering if your repeat customer rate is dropping, your customer feedback isn’t glowing and you don’t have any idea why.
Median salary: AU$264,000
Insider insight: Karen Quintos, the former CCO at Dell, says, “My role, at the end of the day, is to advocate on behalf of our customers. Our customers want to know that they’re valued, that we put them at the core of everything that we do. We’re developing high touch programs, high relationship programs and high loyalty programs that signal to them they’re important to us. We need to ensure the end-to-end customer experience is the best. We all know our customers are our ultimate differentiator.”
Chief Innovation Officer
What they do: The disruptors of the C suite, the role of the CIO is to look at how something is being done and find a way to do it better. This can include analysing breaking trends, working with different departments on how to shake up the status quo and stay ahead of competitors, overseeing seed funding, prototyping and testing. A CIO’s can-do attitude is vital in getting innovative ideas from a notepad to the marketplace.
What they don’t do: Come up with every innovation themselves. A large part of the role is drawing and implementing innovative ideas from staff members.
When you need one: If your efforts to innovate with employees produces email threads of ideas but no implementation.
Median salary: AU$222,000
Insider insight: Garry Lyons, CIO of MasterCard, says, “If you truly want game-changing solutions you need to engage the organisation. We’ve implemented [innovation] right across the product life cycle – ideation, fast prototyping and commercialisation… We have a model that takes into account about 25 different factors. They range from factors like size of the market and relevance to ‘protectability’. If we can’t innovate at the pace the market wants, we’re going to get left behind.”
Chief Sustainability Officer
What they do: A lot more than just making sure recycling bins are installed in the office, the CSO’s job is to implement green initiatives across the company. This can include reducing water waste and carbon emissions in the production and distribution process, rethinking packaging (or removing it completely), changing product ingredients and setting up partnerships with charities. A study from the Weinreb Group found that 86 per cent of CSOs were hired internally.
What they don’t do: Aim for eco perfection. Good CSOs know that sustainability in a company is often about compromise.
When you need one: If you want to attract Gen Y talent. Studies show that sustainability of a business is of high importance to Millennials when committing to a company.
Median salary: AU$110,000
Insider insight: Steve Howard, CSO at IKEA, says, “Today we have choices. We can make products that are beautiful or ugly, sustainable or unsustainable, affordable or expensive, functional or useless. So let’s make beautiful, functional, affordable, sustainable products. By 2020 we’ll produce more renewable energy than the energy we consume as a business. If you’re a business leader, if you’re not already weaving sustainability right into the heart of your business model, I’d urge you to do so.”
*Median salaries are provided as a guide only.
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