The Rise of the New C-Level Executives
Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen a rise of new C-Level executives in corporate America—so much so that the terms “C-Level” and “C-Suite” may have come to be seen as nothing more than industry jargon by many.
It can be tempting to brush these buzzwords aside, but it’s not that simple. Let’s demystify the roles within the C-Level suite and determine how important these roles are to a company’s success.
Meet the C-Suite
The “C” in C-Level stands for chief. Chiefs are often in charge of an entire company, business function, or business unit. They make the decisions about the most important issues facing the company. To reach this level in any corporation takes years of experience, immense talent, and outstanding leadership skills.
The first C-Level executive that may come to mind is Chief Executive Officer (CEO). The CEO is the highest-level leader in the company.
A CEO has responsibility for establishing the firm’s goals and strategies to achieve them. He or she is overseeing the entire business and making many of the final decisions.
CEOs for Fortune 500 companies average $16.7 annually. That’s a base salary and many CEO do earn more through bonuses and stock options.
Reporting to the CEO are several other C-Level positions that may exist within a company, such as:
- Chief Operations Officer (COO): Often this role is considered to be the second in command to the CEO. While the CEO creates the plans and strategies, it’s the COO’s responsibility to ensure those plans are properly executed. Their salary is an average of $457,468 annually.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO): The CFO has oversight of a company’s finance and accounting departments. In addition, the CFO is in charge of forecasting, budgeting, long-term financial planning, and managing the overall financial health of the firm. Their salary is an average of $363,559 annually.
- Chief Information Officer (CIO): The CIO oversees the company’s decisions around computer hardware and software, IT vendor relationships, and cyber-security. Most important, a CIO will strategize ways to improve customer service through technology solutions. Their salary is an average of $266,171 annually.
- Chief Marketing Officer (CMO):The CMO is in charge of developing long-term and short-term marketing strategies and the effectiveness of those strategies. CMOs are also often concerned with brand management, market research, and competitive analysis. Their salary is an average of $230,735 annually.
- Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO): The CHRO oversees all human resources matters such as hiring, training, and evaluating employees. A CHRO will also be responsible for long-term employee retention strategies and company-wide recognition programs. Their salary is an average of $217,144
Of course, these specific roles won’t exist at every company. The number of C-Suite executives depends on how large the company is and what industry it’s in.
For example, a tech giant with thousands of employees may need a CHRO, but a smaller architectural firm with less than a hundred employees may not. A CEO at a smaller web development company may take on the responsibilities that a COO or CFO would typically have at a larger firm.
The Buzz Around the New Class of C-Level Executives
The C-Level roles described above are fairly common, but some companies are adding new roles to their C-Suites.
For example, there is the role of Chief Happiness Officer which you’ll find at Zappos.com, Salesforce, Airbnb, Chef’s Club and other companies that were founded and grew to prominence on the internet.
You read that right. Chief Happiness Officer.
The Chief Happiness Officer is basically HR specialist whose job is to ensure that employees are happy and satisfied. They do this by creating meaningful employee recognition programs, promoting a culture of work-life balance, and doing whatever they can to foster a positive work environment.
Sometimes, these individuals are referred to as Chief Fun Officer or Chief Wellbeing Officer or some other similarly cheeky name.
Whether you find these job titles intriguing or they make you want to roll your eyes, there is something to be said for having someone in charge of creating a better work culture. Employess have always considered that a good work culture was more important than salary when considering a job change.
Another C-Level position that’s becoming increasingly important is the Chief Listening Officer (CLO). Again, the particular titles may come off as a bit too silly or “touchy-feely” for some, but these individuals can be useful in industries where customer satisfaction is paramount.
CLOs may use traditional customer feedback tools, like online surveys or focus groups, to gather information. They also track what customers are saying in real time across social media platforms.
The feedback gained by the CLO can help the company pivot more quickly according to customer feedback—whether that’s doubling down on successes or pulling back on efforts that aren’t resonating with customers. Because of the valuable information they gain, CLOs often work with Chief Marketing Officers to help shape organization’s marketing campaigns.
CLOs may often listen to employee feedback as well. Employees are on the front lines with customers and processes, so they can provide important feedback into how an organization can improve their customer service.
This can also help create an environment that retains talented employees because they feel that they have a say in the firm’s internal and external processes.
Common Traits Among Today’s C-Level Executives
While there are arguably dozens of attributes that help make a C-Level executive successful, these 3 attributes, in particular, are needed in today’s leaders:
The business world is becoming more uncertain and fast-paced by the minute, it seems. Companies need leaders who are capable of adapting to ever-changing technologies, customer expectations, even social and political landscapes.
Leaders who can be agile and act with urgency while not making everything an “emergency” will achieve positive results for their organization.
- Ability to Collaborate
Even today, companies are often prone to working in silos. That means teams are working with blinders on, focusing only on their projects without knowing what the overall strategy is.
A successful C-Level executive can bring teams together to ensure they are working towards common goals that will benefit the company at large.
- Customer Obsession
The best leaders never lose sight of the end customers’ needs or experiences no matter how far up the ladder they climb.
C-Level executives must always be questioning their firm’s relationship with their customer base and asking what they can do create a better customer service experience.
If C-Level executives aren’t customer-obsessed, then they can’t expect anyone else at the company to be.
The Future of C-Level Executives
The role of the C-Level executive isn’t going away. If anything, these roles will be more in demand.
If you aspire to be a C-Level executive, you’ll for sure need expertise in your field, leadership skills, and an ability to anticipate trends.
And, let’s face it, even if you don’t aspire to be a Chief Happiness Officer or Chief Listening Officer, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to add “increasing employee happiness” or “listening more” to our own professional development goals.
Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.