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 staffers, 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).

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 operatives 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.

Types of C-Suite Roles and Titles

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)

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 prime skills that CFOs must have learned over the years. 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, MS Office, 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 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)

CMOs typically work their way up to the C-suite from sales and/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.

Other C-Suite officers include the 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), and 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.

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.