Executives Climbing the Corporate Ladder Are In Hot Pursuit of C-Suite Titles. Does Having One Really Matter for Executive Mobility? Sally Drexler, an Odgers Berndtson Recruiting Partner, Shares Her Insights.
A handful of new C-suite titles have been cropping up at businesses around the globe, according to a new report by search firm Odgers Berndtson and authored by business journalist Gary Mead.
According to the report, executives climbing the corporate ladder are in hot pursuit of titles that include the words ‘chief’ and ‘officer.’ Among them: chief happiness officer, chief privacy officer, chief people officer, chief digital officer, chief knowledge officer, chief customer officer, chief luminary officer, chief innovation officer, and chief observance officer.
Why the Proliferation In C-Titles?
Kodak and Dell a few years ago appointed chief listeners; Facebook has chief privacy officers; Microsoft has a chief people officer; Coca-Cola has a chief quality and product integrity officer. Steve Jobs called himself chief know-all.
There’s no simple answer as to why C-titles are proliferating now at such a rapid rate. Partly it’s a response to the lingering financial crisis from 2008. The days of easy money and ever-expanding GDP are gone – maybe forever – and it’s cheaper and easier to grant an important-sounding title than it is to give someone a fatter pay package.
While the corporate ladder may no longer be so steep for some, many workers, according to a number of reports, still think they deserve a promotion — and this is leading companies to feel pressured to hand out ‘better’ titles to make up-and-coming staff feel more valued.
Sally Drexler, an Odgers Berndtson partner in Los Angeles who focuses on finding digital leaders in the consumer sector, said new C-suite titles (apart from the traditional CEO, CFO, and COO roles) have been introduced in recent years and reflect the fact that company issues have become much broader and more complex, and consumer needs have changed dramatically.
“The new titles are a way for companies to show their consumers that they understand what is happening in the outside world and a way to highlight the priorities of a business,” said Ms. Drexler. “Some of the newer titles emphasize the importance of a new company initiative or function within an organization, such as chief security officer in light of recent data breaches. It also shows whether it is seen as being a high priority for the company and is strategically critical to its success.”
It is also a means to distinguish certain roles. “Bigger and more corporate companies have embraced some new C-suite titles to a lesser extent, but have been cautious as they have to act within corporate guidelines,” said Ms. Drexler. “The roles of chief transformation officer, chief innovation officer, chief administrative officer, chief revenue officer, chief data officer and chief security officer are more common in today’s big corporations, as they want to be seen as embracing change in both the digital sense and show the changing nature of how consumer’s consume.”
Using Titles As Recruiting Tools
This, in turn, said Ms. Drexler, not only sends a message to the consumer that the organization is focusing on the key issues — such as security, data, digital, transformation and innovation — “but it ensures the company stays competitive when it comes to hiring and retaining employees,” said added.
Smaller and / or privately owned companies which have a flat organizational structure have much more agility to be creative with their titles, said Ms. Drexler. The titles here help to reflect the personality of the organization and can be used as a way to attract talent on that basis alone, she says. “Sometimes these titles are very flippant but certainly have a role to play and resonate with the consumer and prospective employees,” she said. Two examples: chief happiness officer and chief listener.
From a compensation perspective, awarding employees C-suite titles is certainly a much less expensive way to attract and retain key talent than paying a huge salary increase, Ms. Drexler said. However, salaries need to reflect these titles to some degree, she added.
“A small salary increase is usually made as a token effort in the hopes that the employee will see the title as more attractive to the outside world and important when managing their own career trajectory,” Ms. Drexler added. “New C-suite titles are more commonplace than they were years ago.”
Here is a look at some unique C-suite searches from the Hunt Scanlon Media archives:
- Storbeck / Pimentel & Associates has been retained by the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) to lead its search for a new chief compliance officer. Finding senior leadership within the compliance function is exceedingly complex today, as companies face intense pressure under the current regulatory environment. It therefore requires leadership who can foster close collaboration between compliance and other corporate functions as well as communicate to a more complex and sophisticated set of stakeholders, internally and externally.
- Benchmark Executive Search has been retained by SSL MDA Holdings to lead its search for a chief security officer. Jeremy King, president of Benchmark, is leading the assignment. Reporting to the chief legal and compliance officer and working in partnership with the senior management team and the government security committee at SSL MDA, this top C-suite post will likely be filled by a proven government contracting security leader who will be responsible for improving, implementing, and monitoring all aspects of security.
- Carmichael Fisher has been chosen by PayPal to lead its search for a new chief risk officer for the company’s Hong Kong business. Carmichael Fisher principal, Jonathan Harper, who placed PayPal’s Australian chief risk officer, is leading the search. The role will have oversight of the local enterprise risk as well as being charged with leading the design of local processes to integrate, aggregate, analyze and report meaningful risk and exposure information to the company’s CEO in Hong Kong, its board and the APAC risk committee.
- BSG Team Ventures placed Courtney Vital as chief learning officer at Human Capital Institute (HCI). Todd Hand, a managing director at BSG Team Ventures, led the search. Searching for chief learning officers (CLO) has become a growing business for executive recruiters. The position today is the highest ranking corporate officer in charge of learning management and are in rising demand. CLOs can be experts in corporate or personal training, with degrees in education, instructional design, business or similar fields. A recent search on LinkedIn of the title generated more than 2,200 results.
- Koya Leadership Partners recruited Anders Yang as chief development officer of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to recruiters, chief development officers are in high demand as fundraising prowess and having an ability to drive growth is becoming an essential part of the skills required of well-run non-profit and charitable enterprises. A recent search on LinkedIn of the title generated more than 140,000 results.
- Diversified Search has been selected by the Folger Shakespeare Library to lead its search for a chief advancement officer. Managing director Gerard F. Cattie is heading the assignment. The field of advancement is an extension of development / fundraising, said Mr. Cattie. “Over the past two decades, educational institutions and non-profit organizations have shifted toward more integrated models of collaboration between communications, marketing, branding and development.” Advancement, he added, represents the full integration of these functions under a singular leader: the chief advancement officer.
- Spencer Stuart placed Kathryn Metcalfe as chief communications officer of Hartford, Conn-based insurance giant Aetna. Ms. Metcalfe’s core responsibilities include internal and external communications, crisis response, CSR, public affairs, social media, and integration communications.
- SPMB recruited Steve Sloan as chief product officer of email delivery platform SendGrid. Jon Landau, Rocky Mountains practice leader at SPMB, led the assignment. According to recruiters, today’s chief product officer is responsible for all product-related matters. The post typically includes product conception and development, production, innovation, and project & product management. In many IT / telecommunications companies, the position includes release management and production. Chief product officers generally work on product strategy based on goals set by the CEO and / or board members. A recent search on LinkedIn of the title generated more than 28,000 results.
- Options Group appointed Richard Stein to the newly created role of chief growth officer at the firm. Chief growth officer is a relatively new C-level position within organizations — and while not every company has one, more are likely to emerge. A search on LinkedIn of the title generated more than 2,100 results. “The CGO role is growing and it’s rising in popularity, especially among professional services firms that understand client needs and who want to be front and center to achieve long term revenue growth and stay competitive,” said Mr. Stein. “The CGO is free to challenge the status quo in order to discover new pathways to growth. But the position holder also leads their organizations to a heightened sense of responsibility and purpose.”
- Diversified Search placed Dr. John Agwunobi as chief health and nutrition officer for the global nutrition company Herbalife. The search was led by John Mestepey, managing director of the firm’s Miami office, and Lorena Keough, a managing director in its life sciences, chemical, industrial and diversity practices. “Our client wanted to focus on someone with strong credentials in public health and human nutrition, which could have been a physician or a scientist,” said Mr. Mestepey. “In the end, Herbalife decided on an impressively credentialed physician with both a government and corporate background.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media