Outlook for the Chief Administrative Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CAO

The C-Suite’s closest cousin to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is the Chief Operating Officer, and indeed, the titles are sometimes used interchangeably. A common role for the CAO is to serve as an intermediary between the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and department heads, overseeing functions such as finance, sales, human resources, and marketing. The Chief Administrative Officer monitors departmental performance and reports back to the CEO.

One motivation for hiring a CAO is the underperformance of one or more departments. The CAO in that scenario will likely get involved in setting success metrics, analyzing progress toward goals, and keeping the CEO up to speed with the department’s quest for success. The CAO will also often collaborate with departments that lack a C-Suite presence. Because of their intricate departmental knowledge, CAOs are C-Suite influencers with insider expertise.

In a case study about bringing on a CAO, executive-search firm Helbing & Associates, Inc., shared its client’s motivation for hiring this role: “[A] multi-billion dollar contractor, and longstanding partner of Helbling, sought to secure a Chief Administrative Officer who would provide additional depth to their C-suite, create a unified corporate service culture, and develop a long-term operational strategy.” The client company sought to collapse six corporate service areas – human resources, information technology, safety, risk management, legal, and compliance – into a single unit, thus “creating the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) role [that] would provide structural relief to the CEO’s reporting structure and allow a new leader to dedicate themselves full-time to those six areas.” The selected candidate had been a Chief Operating Officer of a similar firm who offered the client’s desired “combination of operational, strategic leadership, profit/loss management, and corporate service experience and knowledge.”

The case study noted that talent pool was shallow for the CAO role. Aon Hewitt reports that, across all industries, just 20 percent of businesses have a CAO role. Insurance firms are the most likely (35 percent) to have CAOs, with the retail and financial sectors following, and the manufacturing sector having the fewest CAOs. Other industries include physician practices, law firms, universities, and municipal agencies.

Key Competencies for the CAO Role

The CAO role requires a synthesis of analytics, process, and strategy. A bachelor’s degree is the basic educational requirement; an MBA is an extra selling point.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CAO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Solid managerial experience
  • Working knowledge of government businesses regulations
  • Excellent written, interpersonal, and verbal communication skills, including facility with briefing CEO on departmental progress
  • Strong leadership and team working abilities
  • Decision-making skills
  • On-time/on-budget project management.
  • Ability to deliver instructional leadership to department managers
  • Ability to contribute to developing and implementing strategic plan
  • Administrative policy-making; evaluating and updating company policies as needed
  • Budget planning and development
  • Ability to establish success metrics and analyzing department data against goals

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CAO role, expand their horizons in an existing CAO role, or even rise beyond the CAO role:

  • Be sure the CEO is involved in hiring. If you’re under consideration for a CAO role, ask about how you will interact with the CEO. Rapport between CEO and CAO is important. “Because of the great deal of collaboration that will likely happen between the CEO and the CAO,” reports Study.com, “the CEO should always be on board when a CAO is chosen for the company.”
  • You could be next. “CAO is considered one of the key stepping stones to the CEO position,” notes Alicia Betz. Since the CAO is often the CEO’s right-hand person, this succession scheme is natural in some organizations.
  • Demonstrate your ability to make high-level/high-complexity decisions. Fast Company’s Jared Lindzon notes that CEOs are increasingly delegating tasks to their C-Suite executives, and “chief administrative officers will help relieve CEOs and COOs of some of their day-to-day tasks, allowing them to put their time and effort towards critical, big-picture decisions.”
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Outlook for the Chief Legal Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a Chief Legal Officer

What’s the difference between a Chief Legal Officer (CLO) and a General Counsel (GC)? The primary difference is that most Chief Legal Officers report directly to the CEO while a General Counsel does not. While not all CLOs report to the CEO, however, in Fortune 500 companies, 93 percent of Chief Legal Officers have a direct reporting line to the CEO. CLO is the newer and more contemporary title of the two. In Europe, the CLO often serves as an advisor to the executive committee instead of being part of the C-Suite, notes Piet Hein Meeter, global managing director of Deloitte Legal, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.

Frequently a publicly traded company’s most powerful legal executive, the (CLO) is a leader whose expertise helps an organization minimize its legal risks by advising officers and board members on significant legal and regulatory issues the company faces, such as litigation risks. Up until recently, this mandate has been roughly the same for both GCs and CLOs.

But the roles are diverging. As Steve Feyer notes on the blog of Apttus, a firm that helps companies modernize their revenue and legal operations, “the GC may concern himself or herself only with the legal matters of the organization, while the CLO is concerned with connecting those legal matters to the broader objectives of the organization.”

Indeed, recent research shows that CLOs highly value being well positioned to influence corporate strategy. The 2019 ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey reported that …

  • CLOs who report to the CEO are more often sought for their input on business decisions than those who do not.
  • CLOs who report to the CEO are more likely to frequently attend board meetings.
  • CLOs have a strong track record in leading compliance efforts, as noted later in this article.

A real-life illustration about how this wholistic approach can play out can be seen in an interview with Ritu Vig, Chief Legal Officer at SP+, who reveals this turning point in her corporate-law career: “Ultimately, I realized what I am passionate about is using the legal function to drive growth in a business. The traditional mindset is that the law department is a cost center to mitigate risk. But it’s a lot more than that, and there’s an opportunity to understand the business in a unique way.”

In an attempt to clarify the difference between the CLO and GC roles, the Association of Corporate Counsel gathered opinions from members of its subgroups. Echoing the emphasis on strategy throughout the whole organization, one respondent said, “the CLO title signals a focus on the role of the legal department’s top lawyer to lead a team or set a tone that focuses on providing business solutions to problems, rather than just legal analysis.” Another respondent speculated that the Chief Legal Officer title is especially used in companies that are subject to regulatory language that specifically mentions “Chief Legal Officer.”

A Deloitte report, The four faces of the chief legal officer, identifies the Chief Legal Officer’s role as Catalyst, Strategist, Guardian, and Operator. Ken Avery, director of Deloitte’s CLO Program, describes today’s CLO as “more than accomplished attorneys; they have a broad view of the business, industry, and company strategy, and manage a staff of senior attorneys that is expected to take that same broad view.”

Key Competencies for the Chief Legal Officer Role

The CLO role typically requires a law degree, obtained after earning a bachelor’s degree in business law or pre-law studies. Undergrad coursework recommendations to prepare today’s CLO from the site Legal Career Path include cyber law, international law, argumentation theory, public speaking, communication courses, communication law, symbolic logic, and an introductory course to legal practice. The site also suggests pursuing internships during undergraduate coursework to gain experience in the field.

Once in law school, the best focus area for the CLO path is corporate law; Legal Career Path advises courses in intellectual property law, corporate governance, corporate finance, public company disclosure, corporate professional responsibility, and advanced corporate transactions.

In your career-marketing communications, showcase the Chief Legal Officer competencies and characteristics on this list you possess:

  • Effective verbal and written communication
  • Exceptional leadership skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Exemplary negotiation skills
  • Problem-solving skill
  • Advocacy aptitude and experience
  • Business acumen
  • Corporate governance expertise
  • Crisis-management ability
  • Integrity and sound ethics
  • Management skills (including coordinating internal and external resources)

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the Chief Legal Officer role, expand their horizons in an existing Chief Legal Officer role, or even rise beyond the Chief Legal Officer role:

  • Emphasize the compliance track record for CLOs: The 2019 ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey cites a study that found that companies whose CLOs are among the top five compensated officers have a 50 percent reduction in compliance failures compared with companies where CLOs were not among the top five compensated officers.
  • Connect metrics to key corporate objectives. On trend with the concept of CLO as whole-organization strategists, CLOs are advised to use metrics to tout their team’s performance.
  • Go for the “hot” areas. Areas of corporate law that are especially in demand and could position you well as a CLO include privacy, compliance, and regulatory affairs. “Chief legal officers are become increasingly valuable to companies throughout the world amid growing concerns about new regulations,” says the 2019 Association of Corporate Counsel CLO Survey. Of issues most likely to influence company decisions, CLO survey respondents cited regulation more than any other issue. Beefing up technology skills can’t hurt either. “Lawyers have a reputation for being technology-averse,” notes the writer of the Apttus blog, “but this often is not true – and it certainly should not be true for a CLO. Embrace all the value-added technologies available to you and promote the positive effect they have on your organization.”
  • Take the initiative. In a Deloitte report entitled “Own your space: Leadership advice from a trailblazing Chief Legal Officer,” retired CLO Susan Blount advises going beyond the requirements of one’s job to the point of “anticipating questions, adjusting strategies, and identifying opportunities for cost savings and client education without being asked.” This process of “owning your space,” as Blount calls it, shows that the “rising leader is adding value to his or her organization beyond technical legal skills and is personally taking charge of his or her career.”

Chief Legal Officer Trends to Watch

  • CLOs are being asked to do more with less. “Legal departments are being asked by the business to become more global, counsel leadership about new developments, and be more transparent about the value they deliver to the organization,” Deloitte’s Meeter asserts, noting that the departments are simultaneously mandated to be more efficient and reduce costs.
  • Not just cost-saving, but revenue-producing. Deloitte’s Avery observes that CLOs are finding their departments are not just being asked to reduce costs, “but in some sectors, legal departments are expected to be more than a cost center.” Avery points, for example, to monetization of intellectual property “to generate revenue and contribute to an organization’s overall financial results.”
  • Sustainability is an emerging area of concern for CLOs. CLOs and their teams are playing increasingly significant roles in sustainability – and even leading sustainability efforts, reports the 2019 ACC Chief Legal Officers Survey. “CLOs outpace the CFO and chief operating officer (COO) when it comes to direct oversight of sustainability teams or individuals,” the report states.
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Outlook for the Chief Branding Officer Role:

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CBO

A Chief Branding (or Brand) Officer “is solely responsible for owning a brand or family of brands,” writes marketing expert Debbie Laskey. The lines between Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Communications Officer, and Chief Brand Officer (CBO), however, are said to be thin, with CBO as a relatively new C-Suite role. Why do some companies (most of the Fortune 100) have CBOs and others CMOs? The branding company Ideon sums up the difference as a focus on brand growth by the CBO: “The planning of the company’s image and direction is not in a CMO’s wheelhouse. Crafting and reinforcing your story and design requires a new or repositioned role focused solely around how the brand grows.” The scope of the CMO is inadequate for some firms, Ideon suggests: “While CMOs are well-equipped to propagate ideas, it is beyond the scope of the marketer to decide what these ideas should be.”

Robert Jones, author of Branding: A Very Short Introduction, notes that “the scope of branding in many organizations is much less clear-cut than it was 20 years ago.” Thus, Jones asserts, CBOs must keep reminding their CEOs of the value of investing in the brand. Jones identifies the roles a CBO plays as philosopher, coach, scientist, and creative director.

Others echo the theme of marketing’s limited scope. “The system of experiences that define brands and create value extend well beyond the limits of the typical marketing organization,” writes Paul Worthington on LinkedIn. Strategist Gerard Hoff notes that when a brand reaches a certain level of importance and impacts an organization across all departments, “its care cannot be left to the marketing department alone.”

Key Competencies for the CBO Role

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for Chief Branding Officer; an MBA can boost this qualification. Typical majors include business, advertising and marketing, economics, and engineering. Consulting experience is also helpful for would-be CBOs.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CBO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Interpersonal and relationship-management skills
  • Brand awareness and brand passion
  • Results orientation
  • Business acumen
  • Analytical skills
  • Curiosity
  • Persuasive influence
  • Whole-brain thinking

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CBO role or expand their horizons in an existing CBO role:

  • Have a vision and ensure your team understands how that vision drives results. So advises Leanne Fremar, CBO at JP Morgan Chase. “A vision for where you and the organization are going is crucial,” Fremar says. “True leaders embody and define a brand vision and culture, which must be shared and cultivated to exist,” Lorraine Carter echoes, adding that the brand leader should be able to express the brand succinctly and authentically, communicate it to all stakeholders, and change it to adapt to changing times.
  • Cultivate brand advocacy. “Since all employees are brand advocates,” Laskey posits, “take the time to educate employees about your brand’s strengths during the onboarding phase and also re-train on a regular basis.” Such advocacy requires a consistent brand story across departments. Customers, of course, can also be relied on as advocates. In January 2020, Audible, the audiobook branch of Amazon, launched a members group on Facebook that took off immediately, with members singing Audible’s praises and recommending books to listen to that other members promptly purchased or placed on their wish lists.
  • Take ownership. “Take ownership of your role by delivering terrific results, building a strong network and being a great person to work with,” Fremar advises, adding that taking ownership means knowing the customer, the product, and the goal you seek to achieve. “These are qualities companies look for in their future leaders,” she states.

CBO Trends to Watch

  • Consumers embrace brands that give back, are socially responsible, and whose purpose/mission goes beyond profit. Studies show that consumers – especially millennials – will spend more on brands that are sustainable or that support charitable causes. “Modern-day customers care about and support mission-driven brands,” Jia Wertz writes for Forbes. In a collection of branding trends for 2020, market analyst Louie Andre concurs: “Consumers no longer see products as mere commodities – each one is now a statement. This is why purpose-driven brands have more appeal to modern shoppers.”
  • Brands get humanized. “If you want [consumers] to do business with you, you must humanize your brand,” exhorts Andre, who points to the Sprout Social Index’s findings that consumers like brands that are friendly, honest, and helpful – and to a lesser extent, brands that are funny, trendy, politically correct, or snarky. Andre cites Old Spice as a brand that has successfully humanized itself. Humanness is also seen as a counterpoint to algorithms. “The world still needs human curators and concierges to guide us,” writes Derrick Daye of Brand Strategy Insider. “This is why brands matter,” Daye says. “They are these curators and concierges.”
  • Branding is deployed to lure talent. “Companies need to begin thinking of branding as a way to not only attract customers, but also as a way to entice qualified job seekers to join their teams,” Wertz writes, pointing to research showing that companies with strong work cultures see revenue-growth increases.
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Outlook for the Chief Restructuring Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CRO

Once known as “company doctors,” Chief Restructuring Officers broke into the C-Suite in the 1990s. CROs (Chief Risk Officers and Chief Revenue Officers share the same acronym) are unique among top-executive roles in that they are typically brought in when the company faces major challenges, and their role may be temporary and filled by someone from outside the organization. Bankruptcy attorney Kenneth A. Rosen notes that “CROs are often hired to allow other executives to focus on the business” (though he observes that separating the CRO from financial, operational, or executive matters may be difficult). An alternate to bringing in a CRO is engaging a restructuring consulting firm.

Tony Horvat of the American Bankruptcy Institute describes the kind of scenario into which a Chief Restructuring Officer is recruited:

When a company’s financial resources are dwindling, delays and missteps in reacting to a corporate crisis trigger a domino effect: Falling revenue and weakening cash flow worsen liquidity, exacerbate supply-chain problems and increase employee turnover. The symptoms are common and quickly become life-threatening for the organization. If management lacks the resources and depth to adequately handle the problem, the board should consider the use of a CRO.

The larger and more complex the needed restructuring, the greater the need for a CRO, assert Bob Rajan, Jan Dettbarn, and Steffen Kroner of consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal. The authors point out that a CRO may come from a large “restructuring boutique firm.” Another permutation is the CRO who is retired and now working as an independent consultant. Rajan, Dettbarn, and Kroner note that this independent consultant “must rely on the distressed company’s workforce to deliver and implement the turnaround plan.” The authors also sum up the primary reason for the kind of failure that warrants CRO intervention – poor management. Not unexpectedly, firms look to CROs who have successfully engineered a turnaround to provide credibility.  The CRO needs to be a distressed-business specialist and grasp such processes as liquidity management and bankruptcy preparation.

Two primary types of CRO exist, asserts Sheon Karol of the Turnaround Management Association. A Turnaround (or traditional) CRO is charged with restructuring operations or the balance sheet, while the increasingly common Sale CRO is “primarily called upon to shepherd an asset efficiently though a sale process.”

Key Competencies for the CRO Role

“A CRO is someone with broad operational experience as an executive in a large-sized company who has experience of driving a restructuring process,” state Rick van Dommelen and Edwin van Wijngaarden of PWC, whose article details critical success factors for the Chief Restructuring Officer. CROs generally bring a background in finance, law, or operations. Experience in the industry in which the firm resides is helpful, but a lower priority than turnaround experience.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CRO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Strategic, operational, and financial expertise
  • Stakeholder management; ability to attain buy-in
  • Ability to manage divestiture of excess assets
  • Objectivity
  • Authority and accountability
  • Ability to maintain liquidity
  • Change-management skills
  • Flexibility
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Negotiation
  • Ability to improve employee morale
  • Urgency; ability to execute quickly

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CRO role, expand their horizons in an existing CRO role, or even rise beyond the CRO role:

  • Discover where you fit best. Noting that one size doesn’t fit all in hiring CROs,  Deloitte separates the role into Strategic CROs, Operational CROs, Financial CROs, and Crisis-Management CROs. Each has a different skillset. Research restructuring needs at firms to learn where your skills are the best fit.
  • Get a leg-up as a restructuring consultant. As we’ve seen, CROs need to have a proven track record; joining a restructuring consultancy is a way to build that record. A unidentified restructuring consultant interviewed by Brian DeChesare, founder of Mergers & Inquisitions, told DeChesare that consultants in his company come from backgrounds that include Big 4 transaction services/accounting/valuation; investment banking; corporate-finance roles, such as GE’s Financial Management program or financial planning and analysis at large companies. Some of the jobs consultants at his firm moved on to included restructuring groups at banks, corporate- and business-development at Fortune 500 companies, distressed and restructuring private equity; and client companies.
  • Look for bankruptcy and restructuring “hot” industries. These include retail, energy, real estate, and highly regulated industries, such as health care and skilled-nursing facilities, report Lex Suvanto and Nicole Briguet.
  • Find the “diamonds in the rough.” Once in a CRO position, marshal the workforce in the restructuring process, suggests Raoul Heredia. “Employees of troubled companies can be motivated to tremendous achievements if given the proper guidance, leadership and management,” Heredia writes. He proposes seeking out employees with problem-specific technical skills “who are eager to take up the challenge as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rapidly ascend the ladder of experience. “

CRO Trends to Watch

  • Opportunity is increasing. Suvanto and Briguet point to “a rapid rise in corporate restructurings, insolvency issues and bankruptcies, as more than 60,000 corporate bonds with an S&P rating of BBB or below mature in 2020 and 2021, according to Bloomberg data.”
  • Restructuring may begin to take a backseat to Corporate Performance Programs. The German consultancy Roland Berger’s 2017 CRO study explains that Corporate Performance Programs are implemented after a company has entered a strategic crisis in which management has not taken action once a revenue crisis occurs and earnings shrink. In contrast, restructuring is typically not implemented until the company faces a liquidity crisis. “The focus of transformation activities is shifting;” the study reports, “they often begin early on, during the revenue crisis.”
  • Younger workers want to be involved in restructuring. The Roland Berger CRO study notes that “instead of submitting to a restructuring plan, Generation Y strives to help shape change processes through a collaborative approach.” The study attributes this trend to Gen Y’s tendency to attach “significantly more value to actively participating in their career development than their predecessors.”
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Outlook for the Chief Visionary Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CVO

Vision- chief visionary officer

The emerging C-Suite title Chief Visionary Officer is not yet well defined and is sometimes used to characterize a function rather than an actual title. Simon Sinek, for example, asserts that CEOs should function as Chief Visionary Officers. Infogalactic.com reports that “CVO” is sometimes added to the CEO title, as in CEO/CVO status, especially when the CEO is also the founder. In other cases, CVO is a title given to someone in a high-level advisory position or even an individual ranking higher than the CEO.

The closest cousin to the CVO role is Chief Strategy Officer, and the functions of these roles may overlap. Like some other roles in the C-Suite, CVO is often added in the face of accelerating change that might overwhelm the CEO. “CVO is typically a high-ranking executive who performs executive duties,” writes Shea Hoffman, “but with added responsibilities of creating a forward vision for the company, especially if they are operating in a fairly new industry.”

Key Competencies for the CVO Role

The Chief Visionary Officer role does not yet have enough of a track record to be accompanied by a standard set of critical skills and traits and thus must include the core-competencies and business acumen of every executive, but descriptions of what various CVOs are doing provide an overview of applicable competencies. Obviously, the ability to imagine and visualize a successful future for the organization is key. CVOs are typically charged with creating a corporate vision, business strategy, and plan for execution.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CVO role should emphasize these qualities:

    • Visionary mindset and ideation that sets the strategic course and moves the organization forward
    • Ability to oversee high-growth initiatives
    • Disruptive change management
    • Skilled in collaboration and strategic partnering
    • Competent at fostering employee engagement
    • Strategic
    • Skilled at business transformation
    • Trust-building
    • Ability to execute

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CVO role, expand their horizons in an existing CVO role, or even rise beyond the CVO role:

  • Apply your entrepreneurial background. As noted, Chief Visionary Officers are often also founders of startups. What could be more visionary than starting your own company? Emphasize this background when pursuing a CVO role. “I think the startup environment or mindset accelerates your understanding of business,” says Bryon Beilman, CEO of Iuvo Technologies, “because you are not siloed, and everyone is focused on getting the product or service to market.”
  • Propose the position. Chief Visionary Officer appears to be a position that is not often advertised (searches on LinkedIn and Indeed for this post produced zero results); thus, the opportunity to propose that a company create the position (for you to fill) is open. If the organization you’re in – or an external organization you’ve researched – seems especially in need of strategy and vision, why not build a case for yourself as Chief Visionary Officer? Smaller, newer companies may be especially in need of a CVO.
  • Look for opportunities to be the CEO’s right hand. Given that CVOs often take on the strategic challenges that overwhelm the CEO, research situations, both with your current employer and outside employers, where the CEO might need this kind of support.
  • Polish your communication skills. “It doesn’t matter how great you are at getting your job done if you can’t speak about accomplishments, your vision for the company, and communicate fresh, new ideas effectively,” notes company co-founder Victoria Bogner.
  • Take the lead during company changes. Change comes rapidly and frequently in business and is closely tied to the vision component. Step up to participate in change initiatives to show your visionary and change-management qualities. Volunteer for the toughest assignments.



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Outlook for the Chief Executive Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CEO

CEO tile squares

The role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) presents several paradoxes. Though it is seen as a strategic role, most individuals hired into the role have operational backgrounds. A study of 130 CEOs by Russell Reynolds Associates reveals CEOs to be thick-skinned, but not insensitive. The research further indicates that CEOs are capable of both including others in decision-making and making them independently.

A Chief Executive Officer is, of course, usually the highest-ranking person in a company or organization, the ultimate authority for making managerial decisions. The CEO oversees the organization’s success and monitors risk. While no uniform roster of CEO roles and responsibilities exists, CEOs typically communicate on behalf of the organization to internal and external stakeholders. They lead the charge on the organization’s mission, vision, and social responsibility, as well as helm strategy development. Other C-Suite leaders report to the CEO, who evaluates their performance.

Major CEO concerns as we leave the 2010s include climate change, disruptive technology, and economic nationalism, 2019 research from KPMG reveals.

Key Competencies for the CEO Role

After studying 222 CEOs from 18 companies that survived for 100+ years, Christian Stadler summarized back in 2015 for Forbes the typical path to the CEO role: Obtaining an engineering degree, getting a few years of work experience, earning an MBA at a prestigious university (preferably Harvard), gaining a management-consulting role (especially at McKinsey), gaining employment in the company the would-be CEO wants to lead someday and gaining operational and finance chops, as well as international experience. An undergrad degree is still essential to become a CEO, and a significant proportion of top leaders also hold MBAs. While internal candidates comprised 79 percent of CEO hires when Stadler did his study, external hires have increased in recent years. Leaders reach the CEO role, on average, 24 years into their careers.

While CEO skills can be summarized as leading people, leading change, communicating and building coalitions, exercising business judgment, and being results-driven, experts have cited specific niche CEO competencies. When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CEO role should emphasize these qualities:

    • Forward thinking
    • Fearlessness
    • Calculated risk-taking
    • Team- and coalition-building
    • Thoughtful action- and execution-orientation
    • Strong strategic skills
    • Good operational skills
    • Optimism
    • Business judgment
    • Keen ability to read people
    • Results orientation
    • Ability to maintain close customer connections and anticipate customer needs

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CEO role or expand their horizons in an existing CEO role:

  • Significant past mistakes may not rule you out as a CEO. In the KMPG report, 74 percent of CEOs said that they had a significant misstep early in their career. CEO Genome Project research similarly cites 45 percent of studied CEOs who had had at least one major career blowup that ended a job or was extremely costly to the business. The key is that they learned from their experiences. Be sure to explicate your learning if you are asked to discuss mistakes from your career.
  • Demonstrate your ability to make rapid decisions with conviction. This decision-making competency is one of four behaviors that Harvard Business Review says sets CEOs apart. “High-performing CEOs do not necessarily stand out for making great decisions all the time; rather, they stand out for being more decisive. They make decisions earlier, faster, and with greater conviction,” writes Elena Botelho, Kim Powell, Stephen Kincaid, and Dina Wang. After interviewing several CEOs, Devin Pickell concurs: “Having confidence in your decision-making skills is one of the most important qualities of any CEO candidate.” (The other three distinguishing behaviors in the Harvard Business Review study are attaining buy-in by driving for performance and aligning team members around the goal of value creation, adapting proactively to a rapidly changing environment, and reliably producing results.)
  • Plan a career path with breadth, depth, and height. That’s how two of the authors – Botelho and Powell – of the Harvard Business Review study on distinguishing CEO behaviors characterize the ideal career path to CEO: Broad experience as the ultimate generalist in the first eight career years, going deep to attain measurable results in years 9 to 16, and soaring to new heights as enterprise leaders in years 17-24.
  • Be willing to drive change and accept “productive failure.” An acceptance of new ideas, even those that fail, is the new mandate for Chief Executive Officers. “[CEOs] must lead a fundamental transformation of their operating models, building an agile, customer-focused and connected enterprise by combining advanced technologies with operating redesign,” notes the KMPG report.
  • Introversion need not count you out as a CEO. As the 10-year study CEO Genome Project discovered, “while boards often gravitate toward charismatic extroverts, introverts are slightly more likely to surpass the expectations of their boards and investors,” as reported in Harvard Business Review.

CEO Trends to Watch

  • Diversity, inclusion and belonging will become a differentiator. CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion is leading this charge, stating on it site: “Recognizing that change starts at the executive level, more than 800 CEOs of the world’s leading companies and business organizations, are leveraging their individual and collective voices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace.” The organization has created the CEO Pledge.
  • Top concerns focus on talent issues. The Employer Associations of America’s 2020 National Business Trends Survey reports that top challenges to business executives include talent acquisition and retention, ability to pay competitive wages/salaries, and ability to pay for benefit costs.
  • Accelerated disruption calls for adaptive leadership. “The challenges businesses face are adaptive,” writes Maureen Metcalf in Forbes, “Leaders need to change themselves and their organizations.” Metcalf points to the work of Harvard’s Dr. Ron Heifetz, who describes adaptive leadership as a “practical leadership framework that helps individuals and organizations adapt to changing environments so they can effectively respond to recurring problems.”
  • Experts call for resilience. Resilience is a strong theme in the KPMG report, which states, “CEOs need to build resilience within their organizations by driving change.” Forbes’s Metcalf concurs: “The people who make change possible hit a point of diminishing performance that impacts their ability to deliver. Employers must provide work environments that maximize employee performance.”

The final paragraph of the KMPG research nicely summarizes the current milieu and upcoming trends for CEOs:

“The modern CEO needs to accept and embrace the fact that they have more to do and less time to do it in. They need to become internal disruptors of their own businesses, challenging management dogma and entrenched practices. They will need to forge stronger links with their customers, accepting the need to anticipate their requirements through insights gleaned from data-driven analysis. They must also create an environment where new ideas can be tested without prejudice and in which willingness to change is recognized as a strength, not a weakness.”

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Outlook for the Chief Growth Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CGO

Businessman writing growth over a rising bar graph

The big headline about the Chief Growth Director (CGO) role over the past several years is that it is replacing the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in many companies. The most prominent example cited is the replacement of Coca Cola’s retiring CMO with a CGO in 2017. In a particularly dire prediction, Forrester, in a report titled Predictions 2020, stated that for CMOs, “the stage [is] set for a desperate fight for survival.” Digital transformation and rapid change are blamed for the shift in thinking on CMOs.

LinkedIn Editor George Anders reports hiring of chief growth officers in the United States has climbed at a compound growth rate of 42 percent a year since 2015, and CGO is gaining popularity faster than any other C-Suite title. Variations on the title include SVP of Growth, VP Acquisition Marketing, and VP of Performance Marketing.

Even as the CMO role is under attack, elements of it are part of the CGO role, which blogger Paul Sparrow calls “Chief Marketer on steroids.” Consultant Susan Avarde calls the role “Chief Marketing and Chief Brand Officer rolled into one.” In a study of the growth of the CGO role, Singular characterizes the difference in the roles this way: “Where a CMO leads all marketing initiatives for a company, a chief growth officer catalyzes growth. A CGO leads growth with an emphasis on performance marketing, and a heavy reliance on marketing technology.” The growth of the role seems related to a redefinition of marketing. “Business leaders are starting to see marketing as a catalyst for creating sustainable growth fueled by a passionate focus on the end customer,” writes Allen Yesilevich for Forbes.

The Singular report calls CGOs “growth catalysts;” they are charged with growing new markets, existing markets, and foreign markets. The hiring of CGOs, the report states, appeals to “companies that want to grow fast, need a leader to spearhead that growth, and are willing to bridge different departments, roles, and groups in the singular pursuit of growth.”

Chief Growth Officers oversee acceleration of business growth and build cross-functional teams that may include R&D, customer service, analytics, sales, finance, and more. They tend to offer a longer-term vision than CMOs.

Key Competencies for the CGO Role

Surprisingly, the CGO role may not require a marketing background. Though not all experts agree, so says Sanjay Khosla of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. “Companies look for people with commercial experience, people who can actually run a business,” he says. Most of the current wave of CGOs have been hired internally to enable them to serve “as a trusted advisor and challenger to the current CEO,” notes blogger Shannon Vize. A master’s degree and 10 years of business experience are suggested for the role.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CGO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Growth mindset
  • Customer focus
  • Analytics mastery
  • Data-driven
  • Awareness of market trends
  • Marketing-technology knowledge
  • Cross-functional team-building
  • Long-term vision
  • Brand-building
  • Understanding of how to create profitability by blending marketing, sales, product, and finance functions.

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CGO role, expand their horizons in an existing CGO role, or even rise beyond the CGO role:

  • Look to fill a gap in the CEO’s expertise. “CGOs can be especially valuable to a business when the CEO lacks a background in customer experience, communication, and engagement,” asserts the blog Marketpro. “ (One cynical look at the CGO role suggests the entire function of the CGO role is to make the CEO look good and do his or her dirty work.
  • Know your how’s, why’s, when’s, and outcomes. The CGO needs to know the what, why, and how of his or her growth plan, as well as how and it will be executed, and what the expected outcomes are. That’s the advice of Sparrow, who cites such planning as the way to set the pace for accelerating the business.
  • Already possess a “growth title,” such as chief marketing officer, head of acquisition, head of customer acquisition, head of business development, or head of new business. These titles will succeed best in a CGO role, according to Aldrebaran Recruiting, while those with sales or product titles probably will not. A report by Russell Reynolds on the CGO role in consumer packaged goods adds that “a pure functional specialist is unlikely to succeed in the role.
  • CGO may open a path to CEO. “In many cases, the role is considered a conscious attempt at CEO succession planning,” the Russell Reynolds report notes.
  • Make some waves. “This role often looks to challenge how things are typically done in the business, alter corporate culture, and drive innovation for best growth-based results,” points out the Mondo staffing blog.


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Outlook for the Chief Strategy Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CSO

business plan flow chart on chalkboard

Virtually every post in the year-long series on this blog profiling C-Suite roles has talked about the need for all C-Suite roles to integrate strategy into their job functions. In turn, the strategy mandate has resulted from rapid change in the business world. “Confronted with trends in digitalization, globalization, ever more stringent government regulations, and increasingly complex supply chains and organizational structures, executive leaders are being pressured to continuously develop and implement more robust strategy in order to respond, adapt and get ahead,” writes John Nimesheim.

This growing emphasis on strategy is a big reason for the emergence, especially in the last decade or so, of the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO, not to be confused with Chief Sustainability Officer or Chief Security Officer). The top strategy officer may also have a title such as chief strategist, VP of corporate strategy, or VP strategic development. Research back in 2007 by Harvard Business Review identified more than 90 titles for the top strategy executive.

Traditionally, strategy has been the purview of the CEO (sometimes COO or CFO) but especially in larger companies, strategy has become too big for the CEO alone to handle. Some experts have suggested CEOs are better at developing strategy than executing it, thus leaving execution to the CSO.

CSOs oversee long- and short-term strategic initiatives and goals. They helm strategy planning and development, resource allocation, and strategy execution. They identify growth opportunities and monitor trends. (Get a feel for a day in the life of a CSO). A 2013 report from Boston Consulting Group points out that CSO responsibilities vary by industry. The report points to an emphasis on strategic planning and cross-business-unit strategy in consumer-goods companies, but in industrial-goods companies, a greater priority on increasing shareholder value through portfolio management, M&A, and identifying growth opportunities. Writer Caitlin Stanway-Williams observes that the CSO job description is “in a constant state of flux.”

Perhaps no phenomenon illustrates the variations and flux in the CSO role better than the fact that no fewer than four articles/reports have characterized the role in terms of diverse CSO personas:

CSO chart

*Deloitte, EY, Harvard Business Review, Marakon Consulting

In yet another nod to the role’s variability, Stanway-Williams describes the role as ranging “from the sole curator of the company’s direction with an ear direct to the CEO, the one who may lead the business acquisitions and define the vision – to simply a PowerPoint expert who puts other people’s thoughts and ideas into digestible leadership materials.”

CSOs face daunting challenges. A PWC 2018 Chief Strategy Officer Benchmarking Study of 187 CSOs across the globe, revealed that only 25 percent of respondents felt they were “very successful” at creating value for their company. PWC’s research further found that 65 percent of respondents across industries don’t think their company has a winning strategy. The report identifies unclear definition of the CSO role and confusing priorities, as well as the “breadth and ambiguity” of the CSO role, for these dismal numbers. It also notes that only 28 percent of CSOs fully agreed that they have a seat at the table at the same level as that of other senior executives. Almost half don’t meet more than twice a month with their CEO to discuss strategy.

Key Competencies for the CSO Role

It’s possible to land a CSO role with only a bachelor’s degree (especially in general business, marketing, sports marketing, or media), although an MBA or other advanced degree can certainly bolster your credentials, as will certification. The Association for Strategic Planning (ASP) offers the Strategic Planning Professional (SPP) and Strategic Management Professional (SMP) certifications.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CSO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Strategic planning
  • Strategic execution
  • Market and competitor analysis skills
  • Risk-management skills
  • Portfolio analysis
  • Initiative prioritization
  • Understanding of capital allocation
  • Innovation skills
  • Cultural and social awareness
  • Self-control
  • Data-driven
  • Storytelling skills

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CSO role, expand their horizons in an existing CSO role, or even rise beyond the CSO role:

  • Clarify expectations. We’ve already seen how different the CSO role can be from organization to organization and, via the PWC report, that poor CSO role definition and unclear priorities can demoralize CSOs. Thus, it’s critical to have a crystal-clear understanding of what is expected of you in the role, and especially grasp the CEO’s expectations.
  • Leverage the first few months on the job. Deloitte’s Making of a Successful Chief Strategy Officer advises engaging in one-on-one discussions about the company’s current strategy and defining near-term activities and priorities.
  • Be the yin to the CEO’s yang. Given that strategy is also integral to the CEO’s role, the CSO’s skills and personality should complement the CEO’s. “The CSO should feel comfortable enough to challenge the CEO’s thinking,” asserts EY’s The DNA of the Chief Strategy Officer, “but should otherwise be in lockstep with each other as it relates to strategy development and execution.” Author Nirmalya Kumar suggests CSOs should ask themselves, “How do you add value to the organization and the CEO without taking away the limelight from the CEO?” and consider “how to be adequately deferential to the CEO, yet … push the CEO’s thinking on strategy.”
  • Be a strategy unicorn. So advises the Web site of the software company AchieveIt: “Strategy unicorns “have a deep background in leadership and strategic planning (many times stemming from a military background), and are adept at both situational planning and resource allocation. They are not only well versed in the corporate strategy, but have deep connections within every business unit of a company.”

CSO Trends to Watch

  • Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will result in better forecasts regarding strategic options. AI impacts every C-Suite role, and for CSOs, it can yield state-of-the-art planning, forecasting, and trend-analysis capabilities. AI training can be a big advantage for ambitious CSOs.
  • Accelerated pace of change requires fast action. The blog Outthinker cautions CSOs not to “wait a year to assess whether the shift you are seeing in your marketplace represents an early signal or whether it represents an inflection point that could change the industry.”
  • Employee innovation gets activated. “Forward-looking strategy officers are seeking, and finding, new ways to activate innovation broadly throughout their organizations,” Outthinker notes, resulting in a workforce that “will evolve rapidly with creativity, innovativeness, lateral thinking, and problem-solving becoming more critical workforce capabilities.”
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Outlook for the Chief Risk Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CRO

risk management

As management of risk – especially digital risk – has grown increasingly important to companies, the Chief Risk Officer (CRO) role has also grown in significance. Within the framework of what has come to be known as Enterprise-Wide Risk Management (ERM), “the Chief Risk Officer is a C-suite executive who is tasked with the identification, analysis, and mitigation of events that could threaten a company,” writes Juliana De Groot, who notes that threats can be internal or external. The CRO may also deal with compliance in areas such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. In some companies, the CRO role is called Chief Risk Management Officer and occasionally Chief Actuarial Officer. Some organizations have a risk committee to guide their risk exposure.

Most CROs report to the CEO. The CRO takes the temperature of the organization to gauge how much risk the firm can tolerate – its risk “appetite.” Risk & Compliance magazine notes, “in building an enterprise risk-management framework, the CRO, along with the board and senior management, must develop a risk culture that is communicated and understood throughout the organization.” The CRO protects the company’s investment in risk management by implementing risk-management controls across departments to prevent fraud, penalties, security breaches, lawsuits, and investment losses.

Key Competencies for the CRO Role

While a bachelor’s degree (typically in finance, economics, business administration, statistics, or management) is usually adequate for a job as CRO, a master’s in finance or an MBA can speed the prospective CRO’s advancement, as does training in crisis management, risk assessment, internal auditing, fraud prevention, corporate compliance, and IT security. You may want to pursue a Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA). CROs typically have 10-20 years of experience climbing the corporate ladder in roles such as risk manager, financial manager, compliance officer, or internal audit director.

As with most C-Suite roles, communication skills are in high demand for CROs. “In reviewing the details of some of our most recent Chief Actuary searches,” relates Kieran Welsh-Phillips of actuarial-recruiting firm DW Simpson, “the most commonly sought-after trait, aside from a well-rounded actuarial skillset, is communication savvy.” In fact, Robert Kugel of Ventana Research likens risk communication to learning another language: “A CRO should be able to translate risk jargon into words and concepts that are relevant to specific parts of the business.”

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CRO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Knowledge of the business, including statistical, actuarial, financial, and economic modelling skills.
  • Strategic insight.
  • Ethical leadership skills.
  • Ability to measure risk vs. reward.
  • Analytical and math skills.
  • Understanding of organizational goals and objectives.
  • A solid grasp of credit and financial market cycles.
  • Both empathy and objectivity.
  • Influence and persuasion.
  • Common sense and judgment.
  • Consistency and accountability.
  • Understanding of performance management.

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CRO role, expand their horizons in an existing CRO role, or even rise beyond the CRO role:

  • Grab the opportunity to obtain real-world business experience in risk management. Early on, these opportunities may come in the form of internships and summer jobs.
  • Know how to optimize risk within the context of the corporate strategy. So advises Kugel, who adds, “optimizing risk is a necessary condition for optimizing return on equity and long-term success.” As Chris Ruggeri, Keri Calagna, Chris Vanuga, Cynthia Vitters, and Michael Fay point out, “most executive teams grasp the importance of risk management in the attainment of corporate goals and the value of more strategic approaches—and CROs are pursuing more strategic roles in the organization.”
  • Gain international experience. T. Scott Mackenzie, whom Welsh-Phillips interviewed in an article on CRO career paths, noted of his international endeavors, “international political events can have a big impact on the operations of international companies, but may also have a contagion effect on the operations of a regional U.S. company. Being able to see and understand these potential dominos is an important attribute for the CRO.”
  • Seek senior-executive sponsorship. “Senior executive sponsorship is also a critical need if the chief risk officer is to be a strategic player,” Kugel cautions.

CRO Trends to Watch

  • Technological advances require a vigilant eye. “Any future CRO,” cautions Austin Clark on the Finance Director blog, “will need to have a keen eye on the digital risks that impact [their] institutions without respite and are only set to worsen.” On the flip side, technology can be deployed in risk modeling, tracking, and sensing to reduce risk, but Ruggeri, Calagna, Vanuga, Vitters, and Fay note that organizations are underutilizing these tools.
  • By 2025 Chief Risk Officers and their teams will need to have become more proactive in their risk management strategies and capabilities. That’s the caveat of Michelle Perry’s portion of a White Paper entitled “Harnessing Risk Management,” which goes on to say, “the CRO will also have to be evolved into a more rounded, influential, business minded individual in order to persuade the executive board when to act to defend itself and when to take advantage of opportunities. Only that way will the CRO and its team ensure their worth and show how they have matured to benefit the broader business and keep their place at the top table.”
  • CROs will need to entirely focus on spotting threats and assessing if and how those threats affect the organizations. Perry points out that CROs will need to assess whether the business has the capabilities to mitigate those threats. “It’s vital for the CRO to be able to look across the whole business – not just strategically, but tactically and operationally, too,” she says.

Check out an interesting podcast series for CROs, including podcasts on “a year in the life of a CRO.”

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Outlook for the Chief Commercial Officer Role

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CCO

Chief Commercial Officer (CCO), like several C-Suite roles, overlaps with other roles, such as Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Sales Officer, and even customer-focused roles such as Chief Customer Officer, and Chief Experience Officer. The CCO role, sometimes known as Chief Commercialization Officer, is typically broader than that of a CMO, incorporating not only marketing but also sales, innovation, and customer service. “Over the last decade, the introduction of the Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) for companies both small and large has resulted from the need to help businesses harness the entire commercial power of the organization,” notes Marc Cottle with McMann & Ransford. A need emerged, Cottle says, for a “C-level executive with sales, marketing, product management and strategy depth.” The CCO role brings sales and marketing together under a single point of leadership.

“The CCO is the new, holistic internal strategist and external spokesperson that CEOs lean on for how the company should interface with its customers to drive growth,” observes Andrew Hazelton, managing director at AETHOS Consulting Group. The CCO may deal with product development, customer service, and marketing.

Key Competencies for the CCO Role

An excellent, comprehensive publication on the CCO role from Ernst & Young, The CCO perspective, offers a specific profile of a typical CCO:

The average CCO is a 46-year-old man [just 12 percent of CCOs are women] who has been in the position for only a short period, given the role is relatively new. The commercial chief is more academically qualified than the average CSO or CMO, with more than half having a master’s degree. They hold senior roles, with 80 percent on the executive board. The CCO is interested in the big picture, getting their greatest satisfaction from strategic management and being involved in the direction of the company. They keep up with external trends: 71 percent believe they add value by ‘exploiting in-depth knowledge of the market and competition.’ The commercial chief is ambitious: one in three thinks they will be CEO within five years.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CCO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Well-versed in all facets of the commercial side of the business
  • Execution skills
  • Process orientation and service orientation
  • People skills
  • Team-building
  • Leadership
  • Sensitivity to diversity
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Business acumen
  • Drive to develop and execute strategic initiatives

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CCO role, expand their horizons in an existing CCO role, or even rise beyond the CCO role:

  • Choose marketing-driven companies that offer learning opportunities. The CCO role recognizes the increasing role of marketing, so those interested in the role should come up in the ranks of firms that value marketing. Brand management is often an effective starting point. Lysa Hardy, Chief Commercial Officer, Holland & Barrett, notes that company migration to chief commercial officer is an official acknowledgement of marketing’s role; Hardy calls the CCO role a “turbocharged version” of the old sales-and-marketing directors model. “It’s where are we going, not just what we are selling today,” Hardy says.
  • Consider graduate school. As we saw from the Ernst & Young report, more than half of CCOs have master’s degrees.
  • Learn to harness technology and data to understand and satisfy the customer. The Ernst & Young report portends signs that CCOs lag in this area. Integrating the digital experience into your commercial practices is an important aspect of this role.
  • Consider the CEO role (and go for the CCO role if you want the CEO role). Ernst & Young’s The CCO perspective notes that the C-suite thinks the CCO is significantly more likely to become CEO within five years than either the sales or marketing chief. Hazelton predicts a shift in leaders coming from functional verticals that are closer to consumers (rather than the traditional finance side).
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