Chief executive officer

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A chief executive officer (CEO) [1] (executive officer, or just chief executive (CE), or managing director (MD) in the UK) is the highest officer charged with the management of an organization   especially a company or nonprofit institution.


CEOs find roles in various organizations, including public and private corporations, nonprofit organizations, and even some government organizations (notably state-owned enterprises). The CEO of a corporation or company typically reports to the board of directors and is charged with maximizing the value of the business, [1] which may include maximizing the share price, market share, revenues, or another element. In the nonprofit and government sector, CEOs typically aim at achieving outcomes related to the organization's mission, usually provided by legislation. CEOs are also frequently assigned the role of the main manager of the organization and the highest-ranking officer in the C-suite. [2]


The term "chief executive officer" is attested as early as 1782, when an ordinance of the Congress of the Confederation of the United States of America used the term to refer to governors and other leaders of the executive branches of each of the Thirteen Colonies. [3] In draft additions to the Oxford English Dictionary published online in 2011, the Dictionary says that the use of "CEO" as an acronym for a chief executive officer originated in Australia, with the first attestation being in 1914. The first American usage cited is from 1972. [4]


The responsibilities of an organization's CEO are set by the organization's board of directors or other authority, depending on the organization's structure. They can be far-reaching or quite limited, and are typically enshrined in a formal delegation of authority regarding business administration. Typically, responsibilities include being an active decision-maker on business strategy and other key policy issues, leader, manager, and executor. The communicator role can involve speaking to the press and to the public, as well as to the organization's management and employees; the decision-making role involves high-level decisions about policy and strategy. The CEO is tasked with implementing the goals, targets and strategic objectives as determined by the board of directors.

As an executive officer of the company, the CEO reports the status of the business to the board of directors, motivates employees, and drives change within the organization. As a manager, the CEO presides over the organization's day-to-day operations. [5] [6] [7] The CEO is the person who is ultimately accountable for a company's business decisions, including those in operations, marketing, business development, finance, human resources, etc.

The use of the CEO title is not necessarily limited to describing the owner or the head of a company. For example, the CEO of a political party is often entrusted with fundraising, particularly for election campaigns.

International use

In some countries, there is a dual board system with two separate boards, one executive board for the day-to-day business and one supervisory board for control purposes (selected by the shareholders). In these countries, the CEO presides over the executive board and the chairperson presides over the supervisory board, and these two roles will always be held by different people. This ensures a distinction between management by the executive board and governance by the supervisory board. This allows for clear lines of authority. The aim is to prevent a conflict of interest and too much power being concentrated in the hands of one person.

In the United States, the board of directors (elected by the shareholders) is often equivalent to the supervisory board, while the executive board may often be known as the executive committee (the division/subsidiary heads and C-level officers that report directly to the CEO).

In the United States, and in business, the executive officers are usually the top officers of a corporation, the chief executive officer (CEO) being the best-known type. The definition varies; for instance, the California Corporate Disclosure Act defines "executive officers" as the five most highly compensated officers not also sitting on the board of directors. In the case of a sole proprietorship, an executive officer is the sole proprietor. In the case of a partnership, an executive officer is a managing partner, senior partner, or administrative partner. In the case of a limited liability company, an executive officer is any member, manager, or officer.

Depending on the organization, a CEO may have several subordinate executives to help run the day-to-day administration of the company, each of whom has specific functional responsibilities referred to as senior executives, [8] executive officers or corporate officers. Subordinate executives are given different titles in different organizations, but one common category of subordinate executive, if the CEO is also the president, is the vice president (VP). An organization may have more than one vice president, each tasked with a different area of responsibility (e.g., VP of finance, VP of human resources). Examples of subordinate executive officers who typically report to the CEO include the chief operating officer (COO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief strategy officer (CSO), chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief business officer (CBO). The public relations-focused position of chief reputation officer is sometimes included as one such subordinate executive officer, but, as suggested by Anthony Johndrow, CEO of Reputation Economy Advisors, it can also be seen as "simply another way to add emphasis to the role of a modern-day CEO – where they are both the external face of, and the driving force behind, an organization culture". [9]

United States

In the US, the term chief executive officer is used primarily in business, whereas the term executive director is used primarily in the not-for-profit sector. These terms are generally mutually exclusive and refer to distinct legal duties and responsibilities.[ citation needed ]

United Kingdom

In the UK, chief executive and chief executive officer are used in local government, where their position in law is described as the "head of paid service", [10] and in business and in the charitable sector. [11] As of 2013, the use of the term director for senior charity staff is deprecated to avoid confusion with the legal duties and responsibilities associated with being a charity director or trustee, which are normally non-executive (unpaid) roles. The term managing director is often used in lieu of chief executive officer.

Celebrity CEOs

Business publicists since the days of Edward Bernays (1891–1995) and his client John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937) and even more successfully the corporate publicists for Henry Ford, promoted the concept of the "celebrity CEO". Business journalists have often adopted this approach, which assumes that the corporate achievements, especially in the arena of manufacturing, are produced by uniquely talented individuals, especially the "heroic CEO". In effect, journalists celebrate a CEO who takes distinctive strategic actions. The model is the celebrity in entertainment, sports, and politics – compare the "great man theory". Guthey et al. argues that "...these individuals are not self-made, but rather are created by a process of widespread media exposure to the point that their actions, personalities, and even private lives function symbolically to represent significant dynamics and tensions prevalent in the contemporary business atmosphere". [12] Journalism thereby exaggerates the importance of the CEO and tends to neglect harder-to-describe broader corporate factors. There is little attention to the intricately organized technical bureaucracy that actually does the work. Hubris sets in when the CEO internalizes the celebrity and becomes excessively self-confident in making complex decisions. There may be an emphasis on the sort of decisions that attract the celebrity journalists. [13]

Research published in 2009 by Ulrike Malmendier and Geoffrey Tate indicates that "firms with award-winning CEOs subsequently underperform, in terms both of stock and of operating performance". [14]


Executive compensation

Executive compensation has been a source of criticism following a dramatic rise in pay relative to the average worker's wage. For example, the relative pay was 20-to-1 in 1965 in the US, but had risen to 376-to-1 by 2000. [15] The relative pay differs around the world, and, in some smaller countries, is still around 20-to-1. [16] Observers differ as to whether the rise is due to competition for talent or due to lack of control by compensation committees. [17] In recent years, investors have demanded more say over executive pay. [18]


Lack of diversity amongst chief executives has also been a source of criticism. [19] In 2018, 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women. [20] In 2023 the number rose to 10.4% of for Women CEO's of Fortune 500 companies. [21] The reasons for this are explained or justified in various ways, and may include biological sex differences, male and female differences in Big Five personality traits and temperament, sex differences in psychology and interests, maternity and career breaks, hypergamy, phallogocentrism, the existence of old boy networks, tradition, and the lack of female role models in that regard. [22] [23] [24] Some countries have passed laws mandating boardroom gender quotas. [25] In 2023 Rockefeller Foundation awarded a grant to Korn Ferry to research strategies and then action a plan to help more women to become CEO's. [26]

Toxic executives

There are contentious claims that a significant number of CEO's have psychopathic tendencies, often characterized by power-seeking behavior and dominance. These individuals can often conceal their ruthlessness and antisocial behavior behind a facade of charm and eloquence. Traits such as courage and risk-taking, generally considered desirable, are often found alongside these psychopathic tendencies.

Tara Swart, a neuroscientist at MIT Sloan School of Management, has suggested that individuals with psychopathic traits thrive in chaotic environments and are aware that others do not. As a result, they may intentionally create chaos in the workplace. [27] [28] This perspective is explored in the book Snakes in Suits , co-authored by Robert D. Hare.

However, Scott Lilienfeld has argued that the attention given to psychopathy in the workplace by both the media and scholars has far exceeded the available scientific evidence. Emilia Bunea, writing in Psychology Today , has linked psychopathic traits in managers to workplace bullying, employee dissatisfaction, and turnover intentions. Despite this, Bunea cautions that excessive worry about supposed psychopathic managers could discourage individuals from pursuing careers in corporations and deter employees from addressing issues with difficult bosses. [29]

In a related development, British politician Andy McDonald received praise for educating a CEO on the role of trade unions. This occurred as the restaurant chain McDonald's faced scrutiny in the UK Parliament over allegations of a toxic workplace culture. [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Board of directors</span> Type of governing body for an organisation

A board of directors is an executive committee that jointly supervises the activities of an organization, which can be either a for-profit or a nonprofit organization such as a business, nonprofit organization, or a government agency.

Corporate titles or business titles are given to corporate officers to show what duties and responsibilities they have in the organization. Such titles are used by publicly and privately held for-profit corporations, cooperatives, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, partnerships, and sole proprietorships that also confer corporate titles.

A vice president or vice-president, also director in British English, is an officer in government or business who is below the president in rank. It can also refer to executive vice presidents, signifying that the vice president is on the executive branch of the government, university or company. The name comes from the Latin term vice meaning "in place of" and typically serves as pro tempore to the president. In some countries, the vice president is called the deputy president. In everyday speech, the abbreviation VP is used.

The chief financial officer (CFO) is an officer of a company or organization that is assigned the primary responsibility for making decisions for the company for projects and its finances . The CFO thus has ultimate authority over the finance unit and is the chief financial spokesperson for the organization.

Corporate governance are mechanisms, processes and relations by which corporations are controlled and operated ("governed").

Senior management, executive management, or upper management is an occupation at the highest level of management of an organization, performed by individuals who have the day-to-day tasks of managing the organization, sometimes a company or a corporation.

A chief operating officer (COO) is an executive in charge of the daily operations of an organization, i.e., personnel, resources, and logistics. COOs are usually second-in-command immediately after the CEO, and reports directly to them and acts on their behalf in their absence.

A general manager (GM) is an executive who has overall responsibility for managing both the revenue and cost elements of a company's income statement, known as profit & loss (P&L) responsibility. A general manager usually oversees most or all of the firm's marketing and sales functions as well as the day-to-day operations of the business. Frequently, the general manager is responsible for effective planning, delegating, coordinating, staffing, organizing, and decision making to attain desirable profit making results for an organization.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andrea Jung</span> Canadian businesswoman

Andrea Jung is a Canadian-American executive, non-profit leader, and prominent women's-issues supporter based in New York City. In April 2014, she became president and CEO of Grameen America, a nonprofit microfinance organization founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus. From 1999 until 2012, she served as the first female CEO and chairman of Avon Products, Inc., a multi-level marketing company. Jung was also the first woman to serve as Chairman of the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association, and Chairman of the World Federation of Direct Selling Associations.

A chief marketing officer (CMO), also called a global marketing officer or marketing director, or chief brand officer, is a corporate executive responsible for managing marketing activities in an organization. Whilst historically these titles may have signified a legal responsibility, for example at Companies House in the UK, the titles are less strict/formal in the 21st Century and allow companies to acknowledge the evolving and increasingly significant role that marketers can play in an organisation, not least because of the inherent character of successful marketers. The CMO leads brand management, marketing communications, market research, product marketing, distribution channel management, pricing, customer success, and customer service.

An audit committee is a committee of an organisation's board of directors which is responsible for oversight of the financial reporting process, selection of the independent auditor, and receipt of audit results both internal and external.

The chief risk officer (CRO), chief risk management officer (CRMO), or chief risk and compliance officer (CRCO) of a firm or corporation is the executive accountable for enabling the efficient and effective governance of significant risks, and related opportunities, to a business and its various segments. Risks are commonly categorized as strategic, reputational, operational, financial, or compliance-related. CROs are accountable to the Executive Committee and The Board for enabling the business to balance risk and reward. In more complex organizations, they are generally responsible for coordinating the organization's Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) approach. The CRO is responsible for assessing and mitigating significant competitive, regulatory, and technological threats to a firm's capital and earnings. The CRO roles and responsibilities vary depending on the size of the organization and industry. The CRO works to ensure that the firm is compliant with government regulations, such as Sarbanes–Oxley, and reviews factors that could negatively affect investments. Typically, the CRO is responsible for the firm's risk management operations, including managing, identifying, evaluating, reporting and overseeing the firm's risks externally and internally to the organization and works diligently with senior management such as chief executive officer and chief financial officer.

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The chief sustainability officer, sometimes known by other titles, is the corporate title of an executive position within a corporation that is in charge of the corporation's "environmental" programs. Several companies have created such environmental manager positions in the 21st century to formalize their commitment to the environment. The rise of the investor ESG movement and stakeholder capitalism, has increased the need for corporations to address sustainability and social issues across their value chain, and address growing needs of external stakeholders. Normally these responsibilities rest with the facility manager, who has provided cost effective resource and environmental control as part of the basic services necessary for the company to function. However, as sustainability initiatives have expanded beyond the facility — so has the importance of the position to what is now a C-level executive role. The position of CSO has not been standardized across industries and individual companies which leads it to take on differing roles depending on the organization. The position has also been challenged as symbolic, in that it does not actually have the effect of increasing sustainable practices.

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Further reading