C-Suite – Definition

Cite this article as:"C-Suite – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated March 8, 2019, last accessed August 3, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/c-suite-definition/.

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C-Suite Definition

C-suite is the description of the highest hierarchical level for a company’s officers. “C” is the abbreviation of the chief and is the international job title of company leaders. There are numerous  officers with C-level positions.

A Little More on what is the C-Suite

The most common officers in C-level positions are;

  1. Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

CEO is the highest-ranking officer in an organization who is responsible for the overall activities of the company. CEO reports to the board of Directors and lead corporate strategies’ implementer.

  1. Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

CFO is an overall company head in regards to regular management operations and is the finance minister in an organisation. CFO undertakes all financial matters and has a summary of the financial state of a company.

  1. Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

CMO is the head of sales and marketing of a company and understands customers and clients. The main roles of CMO are ensuring appropriate advertising measures, market-driven pricing, and optimal distribution in addition to undertaking market research customer service and other more.

  1. Chief Operation Officer (COO)

The COO undertakes operational business management. COO ensures the work processes are being completed effectively.

  1. Chief Technical Officer (CTO)

CTO also called Chief Technology Officer. The CTO is the head and technical director of a company and is a major responsibility is ensuring the proper functioning of the IT infrastructure. The Position is also known as Chief Information Officer (CIO), which is why the terms are often used interchangeably. When both CTO and CIO concurrently exist in a company, the CTO is usually subordinate to the CIO.

The C-level employees’ types and number depend on the company size and the management’s imagination. For instance, some companies have a CXU (Chief Experience Officer) whose responsibility is a holistic customer or employee experience.

Some abbreviations are ambiguous:

CLO can mean Chief Learning Officer, Chief Legal Officer or Chief Logistic Officer. Also, abbreviation does not always have three letters. For instance, the Chief Human Relations Officer (CHRO) and the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), the head of IT security, have four-letter abbreviations.

References for C-Suite

Academic Research for C Suite

  • The new path to the C-suite, Groysberg, B., Kelly, L. K., & MacDonald, B. (2011). Harvard business review, 89(3), 60-68. The paper states that when people reach the C-suite, technical and expertise matter less than the leadership skills in addition to strong understandings of business fundamentals. The author outlines the expectation of senior management not only to support CEO business strategies but also offer their perception and contribute to decision making. There is this rend exploration in more details and explanation of the finding of skills required in each C-level jobs of CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO, CHRO, CSCMO and General counsel.
  • Marketing in the c-suite: a study of chief marketing officer power in firms’ top management teams, Nath, P., & Mahajan, V. (2011). Journal of Marketing, 75(1), 60-77. The author investigates ed the causes and results of some chief marketing officers (CMO) being more powerful than others using the hierarchical measure of power for CMO in the top management team (TMT) or corporate executive suite (c-suite). There was a general suggestion of the CMO power in senior management team (TMT) to increase with the following; Resources controlled by CMO and needed by other executives in c-suite, criticality, provision of these resources effectively, non-substitutability, and centrality of the CMO. The author describes the theoretical and practical impacts of the results in marketing influence in the c-suite and the firm, a combination of the marketing, sales, and market orientation.
  • Who lives in the C-suite? Organizational structure and the division of labour in top management, Guadalupe, M., Li, H., & Wulf, J. (2013). Management Science, 60(4), 824-844. The author outlines the significant changes that have occurred in US firms’ top management structures. The executive team’s size and a group of managers reporting to the CEO directly doubled. This growth was mainly caused by functional managers and not general managers a function called functional centralization. From the model, the author showed that structural changes in the executive team are closely associated with the variation in the firm’s diversification and information technology investments. Differences in information technology activities related to each function and apply perception to refining and extending existing theories of centralization.
  • Gender disparity in the C-suite: Do male and female CEOs differ in how they reached the top?, Fitzsimmons, T. W., Callan, V. J., & Paulsen, N. (2014). The Leadership Quarterly, 25(2), 245-266. The author examines gender parity in the CEOs of different organisations. Through the study of the life and career development of the CEOs of large organisations, a model was explaining the disparity in CEO roles. The findings of the study were, patterns in the accumulation of career-relevant experiences from both to work life that created major and accumulative limitations upon women’s ability to achieve the CEO roles and the type of CEO appointments available to them. On-going capital accumulation throughout women’s career is caused by less access to essential career experiences in childhood, adolescence and organizations.
  • How global is your C-suite?, Ghemawat, P., & Vantrappen, H. (2015). MIT Sloan Management Review, 56(4), 73. The paper states that if a large share of global company assets sales and employees are located in a foreign country, yet it persistently chooses the top leaders who are citizens of its home country, that signals limited long-term career prospect for foreign middle managers already in the company together with potential employees. On the other hand, selecting non-citizen can show a powerful signal as well.
  • Do communication abilities affect promotion decisions? Some data from the c-suite, Reinsch Jr, N. L., & Gardner, J. A. (2014). Journal of business and technical communication, 28(1), 31-57.  There was a report by Senior U.S. business executives that in making recent promotion assessments, they placed more emphasis on candidates’ interpersonal skills, with less consideration of oral communication, and writing skills. Grown-up business managers ranked communication skills as more substantial than younger managers. When an age-related difference is a maturation effect, younger managers may place more emphasis on communication as they mature while If the age-related difference is a regiment effect, the relative importance of communication skills for advancement may shift as Generation X executives substitute boomer executives in top-level positions.
  • Beyond the c-suite: corporate communications’ power and influence, Neill, M. S. (2015). Journal of Communication Management, 19(2), 118-132. The paper explains that C-Suite’s focus is too narrow as strategic concerns originate at the division level and in executive-level committees. Corporate communications are frequently in competing with marketing for influence and sought-after seats in the board rooms. Corporate communications are more probable to be involved in decision making when issues are perceived to be within their territory when CEO support the function when working in industries with frequent crises or those concentrating on reputation management, and in companies that utilize cohesive decision groups.
  • The location and site selection decision process: Meeting the strategic and tactical needs of the users of corporate real estate, Barovick, B., & Steele, C. (2001). Journal of Corporate Real Estate, 3(4), 356-362. The author states that instead of having space reaction, there should be the inclusion of CRE executives in any location selection-decision making a process for them to understand the drivers for the actions and to make sure that the real estate solutions serve business needs properly. An inclusive site selection process is that where works from the company’s strategic goals through business need identification for the new or consolidated operation, based on the strategic tasks of ascertaining appropriate candidate areas, assessing those areas, determining the fiscal influence of the move, and on through the implementation of resulting tasks.
  • Applying a capital perspective to explain continued gender inequality in the C-suite, Fitzsimmons, T. W., & Callan, V. J. (2016). The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 354-370. The paper is outlining that women are still stagnating and not moving to executive CEO and board roles. Gendered forces at societal, organizational, individual levels were argued to be the inhibitors to the accumulation of valued career capital. Combination of these forces across various contexts of life-cycle creates substantial and accumulative limitation upon women’s ability to access and accumulate the capital needed for the progression to the executive roles. There is a proposal of mitigating these forces by the corporate elite who as board chairs and CEOs can develop middle and senior female manager’s ability to access and obtain the additional valuable career capital necessary for progression to executive leadership roles.
  • Why the CFO should talk to the CIO… now: research suggests that in many organizations, communications between the two C-suite officers is suspect. But with so …, Kirkley, J. (2007). Financial Executive, 23(2), 20-23.  The author states the need for CIO to teach CFO the influence of IT on their control and to transfer their knowledge within the IT discipline and to have fast access data for decision-making purposes. The significance of good cooperation between the CFO and CIO to use IT optimally was also pinpointed in the paper. Also, investment complexities require the cooperation of both CFO and CIO to maximize the returns on investments.
  • The price of incivility, Porath, C., & Pearson, C. (2013). Harvard business review, 91(1-2), 114-121. The paper examines incivility at a workplace, it causes and the effects. It states that almost everyone who goes through workplace incivility has a negative response which might be retaliatory. Employs creativity decreases with the disrespect they undergo to the extent of some getting fed up and leaving. Incivility decreases the quality of employees’ work and damages the customer relationships.
  • C-Suite challenges and the economic meltdown: What’s next for senior leaders?, Smith, R. B., & Campbell, M. (2010). People and Strategy, 33(4), 22. The paper states that thousands of leaders around the world have come to CCL to attend the three days maximizing your leadership potential program. The research that was administered to the first time managers who attended MLP can give perception into the frequently cited problems FTMs have in their new roles as leaders.

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