From the outside looking in, the ‘C-suite executive' of a business can seem confusing and a little mysterious. What are C-Suites?
However, their ultimate goal is to reach the C-suite level of their own or another company for many working professionals. In days gone by, the pathway was clear: Make the choices for promotions, befriend the right people, get enough time under your belt, and you'll be in the position to do this climb.
However, as with most things in business, this pathway and the C-suite itself have changed. The scope of roles, the titles and positions for senior executives, and how you get here is not the same as it once was. Regardless of the industry, even those that have been around for a long time, like food manufacturing, the rules for the C-suite are different.
So, if you're looking to advance your career and get on the path to a C-level position from the board of directors, what does this mean for you? How can you get yourself into a C-suite position in this age of disruption and ever-evolving technology? This article outlines what the C-suite is, the most standard titles at this level, and how to obtain a C-suite position.
The term C-suite refers to the highest leadership positions available within an individual company or organisation. Some companies have their titles or choose different words, but the labels are very consistent at this level. Typically, the ‘C' means Chief and precedes the particular aspect of the business this person is responsible for overseeing. This title almost always ends with ‘officer'.
Take the chief marketing officer (CMO) as an example. ‘Chief' indicates their level, ‘Marketing' is their area of responsibility, and then ‘Officer'.
People that hold these positions are sometimes referred to as “executives” or ‘C-level executives”. The members of this business level are responsible for the major decision-making of a particular department or area of the company and report directly to the chief executive officer (CEO). This group work in tandem to ensure the success of a business and keep operations in line with the values and strategy they have outlined for the company.
In a public company, this group will also answer to shareholders or the board - another major factor in the business direction. If certain activities or operations aren't generating the desired profits, it falls to the C-suite group to oversee any changes and corrections that need to be made. In summary, the C-suite members are responsible for all of the mid, and high-stakes decisions that need to be made.
In business, an old saying goes, "you are paid based on the problems you solve". This is the perfect explanation for why C-suite positions receive the most significant compensation of any other role in a company. What individual parts are paid will vary from business to business.
This isn't one set list of C-Level Executives that every company needs to have. However, the core C-suite roles remain relatively consistent across most businesses. The most common C-level titles are:
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Chief Operating Officer (COO)
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)
Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)
Chief Information Officer (CIO)
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Chief Innovation Officer (CIO)
Chief Strategy Officer (CSO)
Chief Human Resources Manager(CHRM)
Chief Security Officer (C
Chief Legal Officer (CLO)
Chief Green Officer (CGO)
Chief Analytics Officer (CAO)
Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Chief Security Officer (CSO)
Chief Data Officer (CDO)
Chief Quality Officer (CQO)
It is worth noting that almost every business will have a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a Chief Operating Officer (CFO), a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). The rest will depend on the industry and the make-up of the business.
If there were a single sure-fire way to reach a C-Level position or the board of directors, there would be a lot more people running these positions. There isn't one single pathway because getting to the position of C-suite varies so much from company to company and from role to role. What works for one person may not work for another.
Another factor is that the corporate landscape s constantly changing. The arrival of start-ups has seen younger people accelerate to C-suite positions in record time, simply because the ladder in front of them is a more minor climb.
The transformation of technology has also seen the creation of new roles that simply didn't exist 20/30/40 years ago - such as Chief Green Officer or Chief Data Officer, which has seen people obtain these tiles in unconventional ways.
All this being said, there are a few typical paths that remain consistent across industries and businesses:
As the founder of a business, you automatically inhabit a C-suite position by default. Whilst you may have a broader range of tasks and responsibilities and will gain first-hand experience in making the critical decisions to drive a business forward.
This pathway can be limiting; however, there is nowhere to climb when you start at the top. So you can only scale your business or seek a higher position elsewhere.
The most tried and tested method for obtaining a C-Level role. Many professionals take this traditional pathway. By starting at a low-ranking position with a company, you can network and slowly climb the organisation's ladder. Although predictable, there is logic to it. As you work your way up, you'll gradually understand the business and industry to a greater depth. Depending on your performance, you'll also be seen as trustworthy and loyal.
It is recommended that you spend at least 15 years at a company to achieve this level. This is a general rule of thumb and will vary depending on the company and the industry. A barrier to this pathway is predictability. When you spend this amount of time with a company, it's easy to fall into patterns and ways of thinking.
To reach the C-suite and be successful, you need to be able to adapt and change as the business does. If you can't, you may go down with the ship. This makes a nice segway to the next pathway.
External recruitment is another common pathway to reaching executive positions. There are several reasons a company may choose this a method of recruitment, but typically it comes down to one of two reasons:
- Lack of internal candidates.
- The desire for change/fresh ideas.
If you feel you cannot climb further at your current company, the grass may be greener at another business. You may be hired straight into a C-suite role, or you may be required to serve some time under someone, before taking the next step.
Choosing this path can be a double-edged sword. To a new company, you're exciting and fresh. You'll be empowered to bring your ideas to the table and make your mark on the business.
However, you are a relatively unknown entity, which can be seen as a risk as an outsider. This may result in higher expectations of performance, and you will need time to establish the trust of your colleagues.
There are various skills and experience you need to be successful in a C-Suite position. However, there are four core qualities you need in a C-Suite place. If you don't develop these qualities, you will struggle to reach the C-suite level:
When it comes to putting yourself on the path to the C-suite, it's essential to make yourself as well rounded as possible. As we'd discussed, that isn't one thing you'll need to be promoted, but several core qualities and experience in your field of choice. Always be open to learning, growing, and adapting. Find your path, and who knows; you may arrive at that promotion you've been dreaming of sooner than you think!
We will delve deeper into the C-suite in other posts, so stay tuned for more info!