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What Is a C-Level Executive?

What Is a C-Level Executive?

May 11, 2024

The C-suite is commonly used to refer to the upper echelons of an organisation’s structure. Those hired for the C-suite are responsible for decision making and strategy at the highest level. 

The typical structure of the C-suite will include a Chief Executive Officer at the very top of the organisation. They will take advice from other C-level executives to help inform their decision making, but they will ultimately have the final say.

The C-suite may be accountable to a board of directors, shareholders or investors. The C-suite may also be shareholders in the company and offering shares as part of the remuneration package is also common.

In this guide, we’re looking at some of the most common C-level executive roles and their responsibilities within an organisation. There is often overlap between roles, but it’s vital for organisations to have clear boundaries between C-suite executives so it’s easier to understand who is responsible for what.

Let’s look at some of the most common C-suite executive job titles:

What Is a C-Level Executive? CMD Recruitment

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

At the very top of the organisation we find the chief executive officer. This is the person in charge of everything. They make all of the final decisions and it is often their vision and creativity that drives the business forward. 

The CEO is also often the founder of the company, but not always. It’s possible to bring in a new CEO at a later date, often to take over for a founder with less experience who is incapable of taking their business to the next level. 

The CEO is commonly the face of the company and will need to be able to quickly gain the confidence of investors by sharing their vision for the future of the company. Very few people have the confidence and charisma to be an effective CEO.

What Is a C-Level Executive? CMD Recruitment

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

The chief financial officer takes care of the finances. They work closely with the CEO to ensure their plans are achievable within the scope of the current financial situation. They are responsible for historical accounting and also for financial projections. The accounting team for the entire company will report to the CFO, or they might report to the director of finance who is directly below the CFO.

Chief Operating Officer (COO)

The chief operating officer is responsible for all HR, financial and administrative operations for the organisation. They typically sit at the right hand of the CEO and help to ensure all aspects of the recruitment and business operations are managed correctly. They are commonly responsible for all compliance, so this is a role that requires someone who is diligent in their approach to their work.

What Is a C-Level Executive? CMD Recruitment

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

As the chief marketing officer, this person is responsible for all marketing activities for a company. They will determine the direction the company wishes to take with its marketing activity. 

They commonly work closely with the chief financial officer to ensure their marketing plans are achievable. They also work alongside the CEO to help assimilate the CEO’s vision for the company through the marketing plans. 

They might have a director of marketing working directly below them, or they might divide these director roles into each marketing division.

Chief Information Officer (CIO)

We commonly find the chief information officer heading up the IT department. This role is commonly awarded to someone with a technical background, but they also need to have a head for business. This makes it a unique role and one that is important to get right. The CIO often works alongside the chief operating officer to ensure IT provisions are compliant. 

What Is a C-Level Executive? CMD Recruitment

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

Organisations with a technology or engineering department will need a chief technology officer at the helm. This individual is commonly responsible for research and development to help drive forward innovation. They will report directly to the CEO and may have close relationships with other chief executives concerned with operations, finance, data and commercial decision making. 

Chief Data Officer (CDO)

This is one of the more modern C-suite roles that is in huge demand today. The chief data officer is responsible for all aspects of data management and analytics. Many companies have access to vast swathes of data that is useless without the team in place to turn this into insight. 

This is where the chief data officer can truly shine. They will commonly work closely with the chief information officer and the chief marketing officer to help turn data into actionable insight throughout the company.

What Is a C-Level Executive? CMD Recruitment

Chief Commercial Officer (CCO)

Standing somewhere between marketing, branding and product, the chief commercial officer is essentially responsible for all commercial activity. This includes the products or services that a company offers, and how they are presented to the customer. This is a wide reaching role that requires someone with astute commercial awareness to be able to succeed. 

Chief Experience Officer (CXO)

As the role of the customer experience becomes more important, many companies are choosing to appoint someone to take the lead on shaping the customer experience. They will typically be responsible for all customer support and for ensuring customers have access to the information they need, when they need it.

What Is a C-Level Executive? CMD Recruitment

Can anyone become a C-level executive?

Not everyone has the skills and aptitude to succeed at this level. It often requires extensive experience in the sector to be able to offer the value and insight needed for the C-suite. 

Some people have a natural aptitude for these visionary leadership roles, but these will commonly find their way into the C-suite as company founders. Once established as an effective C-suite executive, it’s possible to move between organisations, bringing new insight and new ways of working.

Stability within the C-suite is often seen as an indicator of the potential success of a company. High turnover and resignations often point to poor management or a struggling company. This is why companies spend so long selecting the right people for these roles, as high staff turnover within the C-suite is a red flag for customers and investors. 

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