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What is a C-Level Executive?

The term, with the C standing for “chief,” encompasses a variety of leadership roles, all of which are able to make company-wide decisions for their own department. A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) makes the financial decisions concerning the company, while the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the person in charge of the whole IT department.

The highest rank among these is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and all of the other C-level executives report to them. The CEO answers to a board of directors, which is a group of people who represent the shareholders of a company by jointly supervising the activities of an organization. While the other C-level executives have pretty well-defined tasks and responsibilities depending on their titles, CEOs often have their responsibilities set by the board of directors.

Tasks and Responsibilities of C-Level Executives

Most employees of a big organization will have little contact with the C-level representative of their department, because they usually don’t engage in day-to-day management tasks - instead, C-level executives hire people to take on these responsibilities, while they focus on high level priorities like developing new strategies and setting long-term goals for the company. In small or medium-sized businesses C-level executives are likely to be more hands on with day-to-day tasks, due to having less resources.

While their duties sometimes overlap, each C-level executive is responsible for their own department. Not all companies have the same titles, however. While almost every company will have a CEO, a Chief Medical Officer will be required for a healthcare company but not in a technology startup, where you’re more likely to find a Chief Innovation Officer, for example.

Another common title is the CFO, who oversees finances, planning and risks related to revenue, record keeping and financial reporting. The CFO often assists the Chief Operating Officer (COO), in coordinating all strategic and tactical matters related to budgeting and finance.

The COO is responsible for the daily operations of the company and is often considered second in command after the CEO. Both these roles are similar in that their responsibilities are not strictly defined by the title itself, but by the particular needs of the company. A CEO will receive instructions from the board of directors on what their task is, although it usually centers on leadership and managerial work, as well as maximizing profits and revenue. As the second in command, the COO will receive instructions from the CEO on what needs to be done operationally to execute their vision.

Who and How Much?

Most famous C-level executives are CEOs, due to the fact that they are almost always the public face of the company. One of them is Jeff Bezos, founder, president and CEO of Amazon. Mark Zuckerberg is well-known as the CEO of Facebook. Elon Musk is the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, among other companies. Bezos is the richest man alive, and Zuckerberg and Musk are not too far behind.

On average, C-level jobs tend to pay a six figure salary, depending on the position, with CEOs always earning more than the others. Here’s a list of the average annual salary for seven C-suite jobs, as calculated by Salary.com:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): $754,713
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO): $457,468
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): $363,559
  • Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO): $266,171
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO): $234,700
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): $230,735
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): $217,144

Geographical disparities exist in C-level salaries, depending on the cost of living in a city. In 2019, in Harlingen, Texas (which had the lowest cost of living in the US in 2019), CEOs earnt $707,800 on average, while in San Francisco, California, (considered one of the biggest business hubs in the US) the average salary for a CEO was $1,011,710. ****

More Specific Positions

The positions listed above are reasonably generic and can all be found in all large companies, but a lot of other more niche C-level positions exist. A Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer is responsible for the AI research department in tech companies. A Chief Architect makes perfect sense in the context of an architecture firm, and a Chief Visionary Officer is the person responsible for developing the vision of the business, as well as working plans and strategies.

A Chief Diversity Officer’s main task is to ensure inclusion and diversity, which includes equal employment opportunity and diversity training - so nobody disparages a colleague based on their gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation.

The role of the Chief Sustainability Officer is to make sure the company is compliant with programs serving to protect the environment by procuring the necessary certifications, establishing programs to figure out the carbon footprint of the company and build plans to reduce it, as well as waste management and recycling.

Summary of All Positions

Although this is not an exhaustive list of all positions within the C-suite (because some businesses may create roles more specific to their needs), it covers many of them. The business world is constantly evolving and new niches usually mean new titles.

  • Chief Academic Officer (CAO):
    used interchangeably with the term “provost,” usually includes management and supervision of research and curriculars at institutes of higher education;
  • Chief Accessibility Officer (CAO): improves accessibility of products, services, and employment for people with mental or physical disabilities;
  • Chief Accounting Officer (CAO): very similar to a CFO - but a CAO is in charge of all things accounting, while this may or may not be under the responsibilities of a CFO, depending on the corporation;
  • Chief Administrative Officer (CAO): responsible for the day-to-day management of administrative duties, often very similar to COO;
  • Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer (CAIO): responsible for Artificial Intelligence departments at tech companies;
  • Chief Analytics Officer (CAO): senior manager responsible for the analysis of data within an organization, similar to Chief Data Officer;
  • Chief Architect (CA): often called enterprise architects (EA), responsibilities include designing systems for scalability and availability;
  • Chief Audit Executive (CAE): responsible for all internal audits, this position exists at most publicly traded corporations and is hierarchically independent, meaning they don’t report to the CEO, but mostly to the chairperson of the audit committee;
  • Chief Business Officer (CBO): two different types of CBOs are recognized: in commercial companies, the CBO is the leader in deal making, while in higher education, the role corresponds to that of a vice president, as well as associate or assistant dean;
  • Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO): responsible for driving growth and generating revenue for the company;
  • Chief Brand Officer (CBO): responsible for a brand’s image, but often included within the Chief Marketing Officer position;
  • Chief Commercial Officer (CCO): see Chief Business Officer;
  • Chief Communications Officer (CCO): also known as public relations officer (PRO), serves as the head of communications and public relations of the company;
  • Chief Compliance Officer (CCO): responsible for regulatory compliance of the business;
  • Chief Content Officer (CCO): responsible for the corporation’s digital media, both its creation and publication, if it is not covered under the role of Chief Marketing Officer;
  • Chief Creative Officer (CCO): see Chief Content Officer;
  • Chief Customer Officer (CCO): responsible for customer relations;
  • Chief Data Officer (CDO): oversees governance and utilization of information as an asset through data processing, analysis, data mining, information trading etc.;
  • Chief Data Protection Officer (CDPO): responsible for independently ensuring that an organization applies the laws protecting individuals’ personal data;
  • Chief Design Officer (CDO): oversees all things related to design;
  • Chief Development Officer (CDO): responsible for all sorts of development within the business;
  • Chief Digital Officer (CDO): responsible for converting everything within a company from traditional business procedures to digital ones;
  • Chief Diversity Officer (CDO): an organization’s executive level diversity and inclusion strategist;
  • Chief Engineering Officer (CEngO): see Chief Technology Officer;
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO): the head of the company, responsibilities vary according to the needs of the business and what the board of directors expects;
  • Chief Experience Officer (CXO): responsible for the overall experience of an organization's products and services and working on improving user experience;
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO): head of all financial decisions, which include overseeing, financial planning and risk mitigation, record keeping and reporting;
  • Chief Gaming Officer (CGO): focuses on research and technical issues within a computer game company;
  • Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO): sometimes also known as Chief People Officer (CPO), oversees all aspects of human resource management and industrial relations policies;
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO): works with information technology and computer systems;
  • Chief Information Security Officer (CISO): responsible for establishing and maintaining the enterprise vision, strategy, and program to ensure information assets and technologies are adequately protected;
  • Chief Innovation Officer (CINO): responsible for managing the process of innovation and change management in an organization;
  • Chief Investment Officer (CIO): as the name implies, responsible for investments done by and through the company;
  • Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO): see Chief Information Officer;
  • Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO): responsible for managing intellectual capital and knowledge management;
  • Chief Legal Officer (CLO): also known as chief counsel or general counsel, the chief lawyer of a legal department;
  • Chief Learning Officer (CLO): in charge of learning management, like corporate or personal training;
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO): responsible for marketing activities in an organization, very rarely including any legal responsibility;
  • Chief Medical Officer (CMO): head of medical services, sometimes at the national level;
  • Chief Networking Officer (CNO): a business networking position in a company;
  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO): head of the nursing staff at a medical facility;
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO): responsible for the daily operation of the company, considered the second in command at a company;
  • Chief People Officer (CPO): see Chief Human Resources Officer;
  • Chief Privacy Officer (CPO): responsible for managing risks related to information privacy laws and regulations, not to be confused with Chief Data Protection Officer responsible for GDPR compliance;
  • Chief Process Officer (CPO): responsible for business process management;
  • Chief Procurement Officer (CPO): focuses on sourcing, procurement, and supply management for an organization;
  • Chief Product Officer (CPO): also known as VP of Product or Head of Product, responsible for all things product - comparable to what the Chief Technology Officer is to technology;
  • Chief Quality Officer (CQO): responsible for quality and quality assurance;
  • Chief Research and Development Officer (CRDO): responsible for research and development;
  • Chief Research Officer (CRO): responsible for research;
  • Chief Revenue Officer (CRO): responsible for all revenue generation processes, often covered under the role of Chief Sales Officer depending on the type of business;
  • Chief Risk Officer (CRO): enables the efficient and effective governance of significant risks, and related opportunities, to a business;
  • Chief System Engineer (CSE): responsible for the whole system specification, validation, and verification in development processes;
  • Chief Sales Officer (CSO): responsible for sales;
  • Chief Science Officer (CSO): responsible for science, including research and analytics, as well as new technologies;
  • Chief Security Officer (CSO): accountable for the development and oversight of policies and programs intended for the mitigation and/or reduction of risks to the people and/or business as a whole;
  • Chief Solutions Officer (CSO): responsible for the identification, development and delivery of business solutions and services;
  • Chief Strategy Officer (CSO): assists the CEO in all things related to strategic initiatives;
  • Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO): in charge of any and all environmental programs;
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO): responsible for the scientific and technological issues within an organization;
  • Chief Value Officer (CVO): see Chief Marketing Officer;
  • Chief Visionary Officer (CVO): responsible for defining the company’s vision - this role mostly belongs to the CEO;
  • Chief Web Officer (CWO): responsible for the entire online presence of the business.

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