Leadership roles in a company: CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, General Counsel, Chief Sustainability Officer

What Does it Take to Be a C-Level Executive?

C-level executives make high-stakes decisions that affect the entire company. Reaching this coveted position requires years of leadership experience and finely-honed management skills.

Think of well-known CEOs like Tim Cook of Apple or Mary Barra of General Motors Corporation. They started at entry-level positions and worked their way up through the ranks of their respective companies.

Chief Executive Officer

The CEO of a company is the highest-ranking executive officer and ultimately responsible for the success of the organization. CEOs are in charge of implementing existing policies, improving the financial strength of the company, ensuring digital business transformation, providing leadership and creating a vision for success.

The chief executive officer must also ensure the company meets its primary goals – whether to maximize profits for shareholders, as is the case with most businesses, or meet specific humanitarian and philanthropic goals, which is more often the case with nonprofits. CEOs typically lead a team of c-level executives who are in charge of managing functional areas on the CEO’s behalf.

Chief Financial Officer

CFOs are the main financial decision makers within a company. They assess markets, prepare financial forecasts and present research to other executives and stakeholders. They also oversee finance directors and controllers, crafting financial reports that adhere to strict accounting standards.

They typically work closely with the CEO and weigh in on high-level strategic decisions. They have a broad view of the organization’s financial standing, freeing up controllers, treasurers and FP&A professionals to focus on operational matters. They also manage the company’s investment portfolio. They can secure funding and make acquisitions to propel growth.

Chief Information Officer

The chief information officer (CIO) is a senior executive who works with IT systems and information technology in order to support company goals. They make executive decisions, such as whether to purchase new IT equipment from vendors or create their own IT systems. They are also responsible for predicting risk and managing IT expenses.

A CIO’s skillset requires a strong understanding of both IT and business strategy. They often hold a bachelor’s degree in IT or software engineering, and sometimes also have a master of business administration (MBA). They may also serve as a mentor for other employees to teach them IT management.

Chief Technology Officer

CTOs play a pivotal role in shaping technology roadmaps and driving innovation. They work closely with other c-suite executives to align technology initiatives with company goals.

They also need to stay across tech trends and harness capital in order to crystallise a company’s aims. CTOs have a unique blend of technical expertise, soft skills and business acumen.

They typically oversee a range of technical activities, including developing and implementing technology strategies, managing tech development and infrastructure, fostering innovation and ensuring data security. These tasks require sharp management skills and the ability to work with diverse teams.

General Counsel

The GC represents the corporation as a whole and is accountable to the company’s shareholders and stakeholders, ostensibly represented by its board of directors. As such, the GC must be able to view all past, present and future business arrangements from an impartial, long-term perspective.

The best GCs also possess strong managerial skills to ensure that legal departments are structured, funded and staffed in ways that support the corporation’s business objectives. This often requires implementing formal, time efficient protocols for legal sign-off on all business decisions and arrangements so that communications can be protected by solicitor-client privilege.

Chief Sustainability Officer

Chief Sustainability Officers, also known as CSOs, are the senior-level executives who oversee a company’s sustainability programs. They are tasked with coordinating with employees, shareholders and other stakeholders to develop an effective corporate strategy for environmental and social responsibility. The position requires extensive public speaking and staff management skills, as well as a strong understanding of operations, financials and budgeting.

Our CSO list (see links below) includes C-suite and VP level executives who manage sustainability initiatives for companies, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Many of these individuals also wear multiple executive hats in areas such as public affairs, marketing, research, business development and finance.

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