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Updated Oct 20, 2023

How to Become a C-Suite Executive

Have you ever wanted to become a C-suite executive? These are the job opportunities you want and the skills you'll need to land them.

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David Cotriss, Contributing Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

Table of Contents

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High-level managers who hold a title with “chief” in its name are generally said to be part of the C-suite of a company. Not all organizations, especially small businesses, require a C-suite. Some might have the same general framework, but under different titles. 

These details are highly dependent upon the individual goals of your company. Before developing these roles, ask: How will a C-suite enhance the structure of my business as a whole?

What is a C-suite executive?

A C-suite executive is someone who holds a senior leadership position within a company. These high-level managers usually have a strategic impact on the business as a whole and oversee entire departments. The “C-suite” refers to the fact that most of these roles begin with the title “chief” – such as “chief marketing officer” or “chief financial officer.”

Common C-suite executive positions

Every company is responsible for developing its own leadership positions, so the C-suite may look different from business to business. However, these are some of the most common C-suite executive roles you may encounter.

Chief executive officer

A chief executive officer (CEO) is the person leading the charge. At the end of the day, many of the decisions that affect the business will come down to the CEO. Not only are they responsible for shepherding the business, they oversee all the other executives in the C-suite. Around the country, however, unassuming bosses are going about their daily jobs running companies and managing employees much like a first-time CEO. Some run giant firms from corner offices, while others roll up their shirtsleeves and work alongside their team.

Chief operating officer

Unlike other positions in the C-suite, a chief operating officer (COO) is likely to have a different role depending on the company and its needs. At a basic level, the COO is in charge of basic day-to-day operations, as well as executing the company’s long-term goals. Because they oversee many different departments, COOs must have knowledge of and experience with many different business functions. The COO role often is the final rung on an executive’s career ladder before becoming a chief executive.

The COO reports to the CEO, but everyone else – mid-level managers like sales managers, marketing managers and product managers, as well as other C-level executives – report to the COO.

Chief information officer

A chief information officer (CIO) is the executive in charge of information technology. A CIO is responsible for managing an organization’s IT staff, as well as its IT-related assets like software and hardware, and for strategic planning as it relates to computer systems and the organization’s network. 

“[The] CIO role is essential for the business, because we cannot build a product without using technology,” said Michal Abram, chief product officer for the platform Mindgram and engineering and product advisor for Market One Capital. “[A] CIO must be able to link the world of technology with product development, [and] make crucial business decisions based on unique knowledge and experience.”

Chief financial officer

A chief financial officer (CFO) uses financial analysis to help business owners make decisions that are forward-thinking and strategic. A CFO’s recommendations help move a company in the direction toward its goal, rather than making reactive decisions based on what’s happening in the industry.

Additionally, a CFO must have a thorough grasp on accounting. They have an untainted view of a company’s financial health by reviewing its balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow management to make the best financial decisions for the business.

Chief information security officer

A chief information security officer (CISO) ensures that the organization’s security posture and policy align with the company’s vision. They also must provide the protection and support necessary to mitigate and recover from security breaches, privacy or regulatory lapses, or security policy failures that sometimes occur.

In the executive suite, a CISO must understand the overarching enterprise vision and strategy for the organization, and then take all steps necessary to see that its information assets and technologies are properly protected.

No matter the role in the company, you owe it to your employees to be a good leader. Check out our guide on how to identify your leadership weaknesses and work to improve them.

Do small businesses need a C-suite?

The organizational structure of any business can and should be defined in whatever way makes the most sense for that particular company. While some small businesses may opt not to have a C-suite, others might decide that is what works best for them. Small and medium businesses may not require an extensive number of C-level executives, but they still need to establish a clear hierarchy of leadership. In reality, the term “C-suite” is relatively new, and a small business likely does not need to define its top leadership in this way to run effectively. 

What are the benefits and drawbacks of having a C-suite?

One of the main benefits of the C-suite is that these executives are there to ensure that the business is firing on all cylinders and is reaching its full potential. They make sure that nothing slips through the cracks and all systems are optimized to work in the company’s favor, both in the short term and the long term. They also coordinate with a board of directors to ensure the business stays accountable to its shareholders, if there are any.

Drawbacks come from C-suite level managers who are bad bosses. Those who fail to communicate a clear vision or set tangible goals will end up creating negative cycles within the company, impeding its ability to thrive. Having one person who is in charge of making sure that an entire subsector of the company is running efficiently requires a skilled and dedicated person for it to work. 

Did You Know?Did you know
The roles of the C-suite executives are constantly changing as business structures shift. Read more about how CEOs are redefining their roles to better aid their companies.

What should a business look for in C-suite candidates?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The true criteria for each C-suite candidate will depend on the role and the specific needs of the business. However, there are some qualifications that any company should look for in its C-suite candidates.

Most candidates should have at least a master’s degree, though there are some exceptions that might be made based on their specific experience. If they do not have a master’s degree, but they have more than 30 years’ experience in the field, a business might opt to go for that candidate anyways. Either way, they should have a combination of solid education and work experience. They should also have a degree in business (or a similar subject) and a proven track record of successful team building.

All C-suite executives should be great communicators and leaders. They need to be flexible and amenable, especially in stressful situations. A combination of organization and analytical skills mixed with creativity and forward-thinking are a must.

These are the people who are leading your business as it grows. Therefore, they should be able to cultivate trust and collaboration among all members of the company through both their hard and soft skills. 

Studying the C-suite for success

If you want to learn more about how a company operates from the top down, study the C-suite. The more you know about the top managers and their functions, the better you’ll be able to understand the company’s overall strategy and goals. This is helpful for anyone, not just those who are looking to join the C-suite themselves.

If you are pursuing one of these positions, then start developing your leadership skills by seeking out a corporate mentor. The more experience you have under your belt, the better.

Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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David Cotriss, Contributing Writer
David Cotriss is an award-winning writer of over 500 news and feature articles for both trade and consumer publications focusing on business and technology topics.
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