What are C Level Executives and What Do They Do?

FT Contributor  | 

The terms “C-suite” or “C-level” refer to the top level executives in a business or corporation. The C-suite consists of senior executives who are in charge of making the most important decisions for the operation and future of the company. These roles are generally the highest-paying jobs within the business.

Most of the job titles for these executives begin with “chief,” including the chief medical officer (CMO) and chief executive officer (CEO). Since most of these job titles start with “C,” the term C-suite refers to all of these executives as one.

C-Suite Executive Positions

Executives in the C-suite are extremely influential on decisions made that affect the daily operations of a company, as well as its long-term goals. C-suite executives must have strong decision-making skills and are required to have experience in business and in their specific field. Secondary education is also important for top executives. In most cases, C-suite executives are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a business-related field or a master’s degree in business.

It’s common for an employee to work their way up to a C-suite level position after many years dedicated to the company. In some cases, a C-suite executive may be hired from outside a company due to their past experience assisting other corporations. Depending on the structure of a company, the C-suite level may include all, some, or one of the following executive job titles:

  • CEO: chief executive officer;
  • CFO: chief financial officer;
  • COO: chief operating officer;
  • CIO: chief information officer;
  • CHRM: chief human resources manager;
  • CSO: chief security officer;
  • CGO: chief green officer;
  • CAO: chief analytics officer;
  • CMO: chief medical officer;
  • CDO: chief data officer.

The types of executives and number of C-suite level positions in a company may vary based on company size, industry, and its specific organizational needs.

CEO: Chief Executive Officer

The CEO is responsible for overseeing the operations, staff, and goals for the entire company. Since a CEO has their hand in most aspects of the business, they must be well-versed in corporate finances, marketing, human resources, and operations. Most employees, teams, and supervisors report to the CEO, so advanced interpersonal and management skills are necessary.

The CEO may report to the business owner or stockholders before making decisions. They generally obtain this C-suite position after completing a business education and proving themselves as a manager or leader in a different role first.

CFO: Chief Financial Officer

A CFO is in charge of analyzing the company’s finances and making decisions based on profit and loss. They may manage a small team of accountants or other financial advisors within a company, depending on the size of the business. To become a CFO, you may need to have a degree in finance, economics, or mathematics. CFOs review statistics and data to implement strategies and policies to benefit the company’s finances.

CFOs may report to the company’s CEO or owner. They may be tasked with presenting financial information on the state of the company and the best ways to proceed with business. Therefore, a CFO should not only have strong mathematical skills, they should also have solid presentation and analytical skills.

COO: Chief Operating Officer

Within the company structure, a COO is responsible for ensuring daily operations are running smoothly. The COO must possess important soft skills, such as time management, problem-solving, and organizational skills. A successful COO uses their experience in business and higher education to identify ways to make the company run more efficiently and harmoniously.

The COO works with all teams within a corporation to ensure a business is operating successfully. A person in this position may report to the CEO or business owner before implementing policies. Depending on the structure and size of the company, the COO may also consult with other C-suite level executives when making company-wide decisions.

CIO: Chief Information Officer

The CIO is in charge of a company’s technological resources. The person in this position works closely with the informational technology (IT) department to ensure the business is using all technical resources as efficiently as possible to meet company goals. A CIO must have strong technical and computer skills, as well as advanced leadership skills.

Hard skills related to computer programs and technical strategies are vital in this role. A CIO may be tasked with implementing online customer service platforms or approving IT vendor negotiations.

Most CIOs report to the CEO and may be required to present proposals for different strategies and ideas. Depending on the size of the company, the CIO may have their own team of IT professionals to help design and implement policies and technical resources throughout the company.

CHRM: Chief Human Resources Manager

To become a CHRM, you must have a degree in human resources and possess advanced interpersonal, social, and communication skills. CHRMs are responsible for identifying open positions as needed and assisting in the hiring process, while also administering employee benefit packages, including health insurance and 401(k) plans.

They must have a firm grasp on identifying ideal job candidates and talented workers. CHRMs usually manage a team of human resource workers and together they implement an effective onboarding process for newly hired employees.

A CHRM must be familiar with human resources software and other tools used in the hiring, training, and benefits sectors of the company. Depending on how a company is structured, a CHRM may report to the CEO or business owner.

CSO: Chief Security Officer

A CSO has the important job of ensuring a company’s data, systems, employees, and assets remain safe and protected. The job of a CSO may overlap with the CIO considering that many protective strategies relate to IT. The CSO may have a team of IT professionals to assist them in implementing software and techniques to keep the company’s information safe from hackers.

To become a CSO, you must have management skills, as well as an understanding of complex data systems and safety requirements. Most CSOs at least hold bachelor’s degrees in computer-related fields. While the CSO may be responsible for managing a team of employees, they may also be tasked with reporting to the CEO and proposing software or strategies.

CGO: Chief Green Officer

In light of recent environmental issues, the position of the CGO is a relatively new C-suite level role created within many corporations. The CGO is responsible for analyzing procedures and implementing strategies that help companies reduce their carbon footprint. To become a CGO, you must have a passion for the environment and business knowledge so you can suggest realistic plans and policies for positive environmental changes that allow the business to remain profitable.

CGOs may need to present their ideas on policy changes to the CEO or business owner, so good communication and interpersonal skills are crucial. A CGO may also be tasked with demonstrating new procedures to teams and staff members. To become a CGO, you must have education and experience with environmental issues as they relate to the industry.

CAO: Chief Analytics Officer

The CAO analyzes company data, such as customer behaviors and employee efficiency, to improve business practices and effectiveness. Not all companies appoint CAOs and in most cases, the CAO advances from a lower position and is promoted to the role. CAOs earn their salaries by implementing successful strategies related to how employees do their jobs or how companies are structured to increase profit and efficiency.

A CAO may work with team leaders or other C-suite executives to identify concerns, analyze data within departments, and create solutions as needed. To become a CAO, you may need to hold a degree in business, analytics, or management. You must also possess advanced problem-solving and communication skills and have the ability to analyze and interpret data effectively.

CMO: Chief Medical Officer

A CMO works in the medical field and is the C-suite executive who oversees the operations of a physician’s office, hospital, or other health care facility. A CMO must have a medical background and experience in the medical field before they can advance into this position. The CMO is responsible for ensuring the staff is performing their duties and that they have the procedures and supplies they need to efficiently complete tasks.

In addition to extensive medical experience, a CMO must also possess leadership, organization, communication, and interpersonal skills. Depending on the structure of the facility, a CMO may report to other C-suite executives, including the CEO or CFO. They may be asked to report on how the facility is operating and make suggestions for improvements on its functionality and efficiency.

CDO: Chief Data Officer

A CDO is responsible for gathering and analyzing a company’s data for a variety of reasons. They may use this data to implement procedures that make employees more efficient or to decrease storage space for products. In some cases, CDOs assist other C-suite executives or team leaders with specific issues by providing solid data and statistics.

While this role is similar to a CIO, a CDO is more focused on using data to increase the company’s profitability as opposed to its technological resources. While both roles focus on efficiency and improvement, they use different strategies and resources to reach their goals.

To become a CDO, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree in business or a related field and a passion for statistics, numbers, and data. Strong analytical, problem-solving, and mathematical skills are crucial in this role. You may need to present your data and ideas to other C-suite executives or assist employees in implementing the policies you create.

C-suite level executives make tough decisions to increase productivity, profit, and success for a company. When C-suite executives work together and use their skills and knowledge in their specific fields, a business and its employees can grow and thrive.


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