What Is C-Suite?

C-suite, or C-level, is widely-used vernacular describing a cluster of 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).

Key Takeaways

  • "C-suite" refers to the executive-level managers within a company.
  • Common c-suite executives include chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), and chief information officer (CIO).
  • C-level members work together to ensure a company stays true to its established plans and policies.
1:08

C-Suite

Understanding the C-Suite

The C-suite is deemed the most important and influential group of individuals within a company. Reaching this high echelon typically requires a plethora of experience and finely-honed leadership skills. While many C-level executives formerly relied on functional know-how and technical skills to climb the lower rungs of the corporate ladder, most have cultivated more visionary perspectives needed to make sound upper management decisions.

Most frequently the CEO, CFO, and COO positions come to mind when talking about the C-suite. However, there are several other positions that fall into this executive level. Other C-Suite officers include:

  • Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)
  • Chief Human Resources Manager (CHRM)
  • Chief Security Officer (CSO)
  • Chief Green Officer (CGO)
  • Chief Analytics Officer (CAO)
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
  • Chief Data Officer (CDO)

The number of C-level positions varies, depending on variables such as a company's size, mission, and sector. While larger companies may require both a CHRM and a COO, smaller operations may only need a COO to oversee human resources activities.

Role of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Invariably the highest-level corporate executive, the CEO traditionally serves as the face of the company and frequently consults other C-suite members for advice on major decisions. CEOs can come from any career background, as long as they have cultivated substantial leadership and decision-making skills along their career paths.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Duties

In the financial industry, the CFO position represents the top of the corporate ladder for financial analysts and accountants striving for upward mobility. Portfolio management, accounting, investment research, and financial analysis are the prime skills that CFOs must possess. CFOs have global mindsets and work closely with CEOs to source new business opportunities while weighing the financial risks and benefits of each potential venture.

Chief Information Officer (CIO)

A leader in information technology, the CIO usually gets his or her start as a business analyst, then works towards C-level glory, while developing technical skills in disciplines such as programming, coding, project management, and mapping. CIOs are usually skilled at applying these functional skills to risk management, business strategy, and finance activities. In many companies, CIOs are referred to as the chief technology officers.

Chief Operating Officer (COO)

As the human resources (HR) C-level executive, the COO ensures a company's operations run smoothly. They focus is in areas such as recruitment, training, payroll, legal, and administrative services. The COO is usually second in command to the CEO.

Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)

The CMO typically works its way up to the C-suite from sales or marketing roles. These execs are skilled at managing social innovation and product development initiatives across both brick-and-mortar establishments and electronic platforms—the latter of which is highly essential in today's digital era.

Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

A chief technology officer (CTO) is the executive in charge of an organization's technological needs as well as its research and development (R&D). Also known as a chief technical officer, this individual examines the short- and long-term needs of an organization and utilizes capital to make investments designed to help the organization reach its objectives. The CTO usually reports directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) of the firm.

Responsibilities at the C-Level

C-level members work in concert to ensure a company’s strategies and operations align with their established plans and policies. With public companies, activities that don't lean toward increased profits for shareholders are routinely corrected, under the purview of C-level management personnel.

C-suite execs occupy stressful high-stakes positions and are thus rewarded with high compensation packages.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which positions are part of the "C-suite"?

The C-suite refers to a company's top management positions, where the "C" stands for "chief." Various chief ____ officers (e.g., CEO, CIO, CFO, etc.) are the occupants of the C-suite. These individuals, while highly-paid and influential managers, are still employees of the firm. The number of C-level positions varies by firm, depending on variables such as a company's size, mission, and sector. 

Are most C-suite executives men?

Yes. Historically, only men occupied top management positions in firms. Over the past few decades, this has changed a bit. Still, a 2020 Oliver Wyman report found that women hold only 20% of executive committee positions and 23% of board seats. Among Fortune 1000 companies, 94% of chief executive officers are male, and just 6% employed are female CEOs.

How can one start a career that ends in the C-suite?

There isn’t a standard road map for reaching the C-suite. For some, being proactive and thoughtful about formulating your career path will be essential, while others may get by simply through being aggressive and rubbing elbows with the right people. In any case, hard work and a skilled track record are a must, and there’s no room for complacency. Having proper credentials such as an MBA from a top business school is also a plus.