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What is 'C-Suite'

C-Suite, or C-Level, is a widely-used slang term used to collectively refer to a corporation's most important senior executives. C-Suite gets its name from the titles of top senior executives which tend to start with the letter C, for chief, as in chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and chief information officer (CIO).

Also called "C-level executives."

BREAKING DOWN 'C-Suite'

The C-suite is considered the most important and influential group of individuals at a company. The suite is usually the top of the echelon at a lot of companies: the highest career point which cannot be reached without leadership skills. One who gets to the C-level may realize that the functional know-how and technical skills that were garnered from the bottom of the career rung, and that qualified that person for a position in the C-suite may not be needed once they get to the top. At the C-level, leadership skills and business expertise are what counts above all other skill sets.

C-Suite Roles and Titles

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – The CEO is the highest level executive in the corporate world. The CEO leans on the other C-suite members for advice on making major corporate decisions. The CEO serves as the face of the company, setting the strategy and direction that the company should take in order to achieve its vision. The CEO could come from any career background, and must have shown great leadership and decision-making skills in previous positions.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – The top of the corporate career for a financial analyst and accountant in the financial industry is the CFO position. Portfolio management, accounting, investment securities, investment research and financial analysis are examples of skills that are built over the years. The CFO has a global mindset and works closely with the CEO to find new business opportunities for the company, while weighing the financial risk and benefits of each potential venture.

Chief Information Officer (CIO) – The CIO is a leader in information technology and usually starts from a business analyst position, working their way up to the C-level while developing technical skills in programming, coding, project management, MS Office, mapping etc. The CIO should have a practical knowledge of these skills, and also how these functional skills can be applied to risk management, business strategy, and finance. The CIO is sometimes referred to as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), although in some companies, these two may be separate.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) – The C-level of the Human Resources (HR) career is the COO. The COO manages the operations of a company by ensuring that the company functions smoothly in areas such as recruitment, training, payroll, legal, and administration. The Chief Operating Officer is usually the second in command to the CEO as he or she works to ensure that the organization has a healthy corporate culture.

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) – The CMO usually would have worked their way up to the C-suite from a sales and/or marketing position, and would be able to manage social innovation and product development across brick-and-mortar and electronic platforms (a function which is in high demand as the world shifts to a digital era).

Other offices in the C-Suite may include Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), Chief Human Resources Manager (CHRM), Chief Security Officer (CSO), Chief Green Officer (CGO), Chief Analytics Officer (CAO), Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Chief Data Officer (CDO), etc.

The number of C-level positions vary from company to company, and may depend on the size of the company, its mission, and its operating industry or sector. While a larger company may have need for both a CHRM and a COO, a much smaller company may only need a COO to oversee human resources. Likewise, a healthcare company would require a CMO, who a food and beverage company may not require.

Responsibilities at the C-Level

C-level members are the most influential employees of a company. They work with each other to ensure that the company’s strategies and operations are aligned with the established plans and policies. Public companies, for example, are in business to make profit for shareholders. Any plan in place that does not correlate with this objective will be terminated.

Being a member of C-suite comes with high-stakes decision making, a more demanding workload and high compensation. As "chief" titles proliferate, however, job-title inflation may decrease the prestige associated with being a member of the C-suite.

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