13th Dec 2017 •

Why are there so many Chiefs?

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) role is fairly clear. He or she, is the highest-ranking executive in an organisation who reports to the board of directors. They make major corporate decisions regarding overall operations and resources, whilst being the primary point of communication between corporate operations and the board of directors.


Other job titles we are accustomed to are Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Chief Operations Officer (COO). More recently however, it seems everyone wants to be a chief – we’ve seen Chief Human Resources Officer (CHO), Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) and so on. It probably won’t be long before we get a CSMO (Chief Social Media Officer), or a CRO (Chief Receptionist Officer). Has this been borne out of chief envy, or is the rise of the chief more strategic than that?

Most of these positions weren’t even heard of a decade ago, but think just how much the business environment has changed over that period. How many people still use fax machines? Twenty years ago, that was the fastest way to send a document, but if you asked a millennial to send a fax they would look at you like you’d just asked them to delete Instagram from their phone.

Technology has grown exponentially over recent years, with any company refusing to embrace its virtues running the risk of being consigned to history (think Blockbusters video rental). So often, these new roles are borne out of a natural evolution of the business structure. A CDO (Chief Data Officer) would use company data to influence business strategy, but they might share their acronym with a Chief Digital Officer – another relatively new gate-crasher to the party, but with more of a marketing/technology emphasis. The danger lies in lack of clarity in role definition, and therefore confusion over responsibilities.

The name is not as important as a clear description of the roles at the outset. Ensuring everyone has the same goals to create a successful business structure is of far more value in a modern tech-driven business.

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