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What is C-Suite?

By Payel Bera

Reviewed by Vanessa Kintu

Fact checked by Jane Cahane

the manager and the subordinate are sitting at the table

C-level executives play a crucial/strategic role in the functioning of the company. They not only hold senior-level positions, but also take decisions that impact all verticals of the organisation. 

Looking into the C-Suite meaning, the letter ‘C’ stands for ‘chief’, which is usually accompanied by the division or technical or functional role that they hold – for instance, chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO) and so on.

This cluster of executive-level managers within a company works to ensure the company’s established plans and policies are executed, and that it stays true to the vision and mission of the organisation. 

To reach the C-Suite level, one needs to have an abundance of experience complemented by remarkable leadership skills. However, the ‘years of experience’ part can be overlooked if the C-level is knowledgeable about the functional know-how and technical skills required to climb the corporate ladder.

What are the C-Suite executive positions?

C-level executives are generally in charge of an entire department, business vertical or division, such as marketing, finance, human resources (HR), technology and more. They are engaged in making high-stake decisions and ensuring day-to-day operations, and also focus on aligning these with the fulfilment of the company’s strategic goals. For large-scale firms, the C-suite does not engage in day-to-day management tasks; instead, they work at the highest level within their departments. However, in the case of startups, or small- and medium-sized businesses, C-level executives might take on some day-to-day management duties, given the scale of operation and number of employees.

The number of positions within the C-suite may vary from one company to another, given the line of business. For instance, a company engaged in developing cutting-edge products may want to include a chief innovation officer (CIO) in its C-Suite, while such a position isn’t mandatory for an iron and steel company. Similarly, for a MedTech (a company dealing in medical technology), the C-Suite might have both a chief medical officer (CMO) and a chief technology officer (CTO), whereas a pharmaceutical company may just operate with a CMO.

Positions in the C-suite change over time as the business evolves and needs are re-evaluated and redesigned. For instance, over the past decade, as businesses have concentrated more on technology, a CTO played a crucial role, given the advancement in technology; now the position has been redefined as several new roles, including chief information officer (CIO), chief AI officer (CAIO), chief analytics officer (CAO) or chief data officer (CDO).

C-Suite definitions

Let’s talk about some of the most common C-Suite positions: 

  • Chief executive officer – Without a doubt, this is one of the highest levels in the corporate hierarchy, and is often deemed the face of the company. The CEO constantly consults with other C-suite members for advice on major decisions regarding the functioning of the company. They are expected to have cultivated leadership and decision-making skills, and can come from any career background.

  • Chief operating officer – Second in line after the CEO, it is the COO’s responsibility to ensure that the company’s operations are running as per the plans and policies. They focus on the human resources and devices plans for the company’s HR assets. The COO’s areas of expertise are recruitment, training, payroll and administration. 

  • Chief technology officer – Generally in charge of the company’s technological needs, the CTO also engages in the organisation’s research and development. They help the CEO by facilitating the short- and long-term IT needs of the firm, and devise plans to utilise capital.

  • Chief financial officer – From accounting to portfolio management and financial analysis, the CFO is at the top of the company’s financial ladder. They need to work closely with the CEO in looking for sources of new business opportunities, and consider the risks and benefits for the firm from a global perspective.

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