What is the C-Suite?

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Definition:

C-suite refers to a company’s executive team and includes positions that begin with the letter “c” – chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and chief information officer.

🤔 Understanding the C-Suite

The C-suite is a team of executives that are responsible for making high-level business decisions. These roles are considered to be instrumental in driving profits and keeping the company afloat. You could probably guess that the chief executive officer (CEO) is part of the C-suite. The team can include several other influential positions, such as chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), chief information officer (CIO), and other “chief” titles. Job responsibilities vary from company to company, and you generally need a specialized skill set if you want to make it to the C-suite.

Example

If you’ve wondered how a company makes decisions, the C-suite plays a big part. The C-level executives demonstrate leadership skills and business expertise to guide the company at a high level. They typically hire staff to take care of day-to-day management. While the CEO is in charge of the success or failure of the entire organization, managers and staff members are put into other roles to carry out customer service, marketing, shipping, and other daily tasks.

Takeaway

The C-suite team in an organization is like the foundation of a house...

C-suite executives offer stability and support to a company in the same way that a foundation provides the base for a house that’s being built. Without a solid C-suite team as the foundation, the business will likely crumble.

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What is the C-suite?

C-suite might sound like an upscale room at a posh resort. But in the business world, it has an entirely different meaning. The C-suite is a team of executives that help steer the company in the right direction. Top titles in the company can include chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO), and chief operating officer (COO). And that’s where the term came from – People in the C-suite all have job titles that start with C.

The C-level is responsible for making major decisions at a high level in the organization. Every corporation is different, but senior executives typically focus on overall strategy and how decisions impact the bottom line. They also have a deep understanding of the industry they’re in and know how to improve business efficiencies.

It’s important to know that the C-suite isn’t a single unit. While the team must work together, the roles are very different. Each one typically represents a distinct aspect of the business, and the executives are responsible for their area of the company. For instance, the CFO might make sure profits are on track and oversee all of the financial departments in the business, and the COO might manage recruiting and legal compliance.

The way they propose and make decisions can vary from business to business. But there must be some accountability. Generally, the CEO is in charge of the other C-level staff, and the CEO, in turn, reports to a board of directors.

How much authority each role has can also depend on the company culture. The CEO might empower other C-suite members to make major decisions on their own, or the executives may need input from the CEO to make decisions collectively as a team.

What are the types of C-level roles?

The roles that make up a C-suite depend on the company’s size, industry, and goals. Big corporations might hire a separate chief marketing officer or a chief data officer. Smaller companies could bundle those responsibilities together in a single CEO or COO position.

Although no two organizations are the same, there are a few roles that are pretty standard across organizations.

Chief executive officer

A CEO is typically the highest-ranking of all the C-suite members. The responsibilities of a CEO can vary from one company to the next. They’re in charge of directing a company’s overall growth through high-level strategic decision making. A CEO of a large corporation doesn’t usually handle day-to-day activities, though the same role in a small business might be more hands-on. If the company produces an annual report, it generally includes a message from the CEO about how the organization has grown throughout the year.

Chief operating officer

The COO is usually the second in the chain of command and reports directly to the CEO.

Daily operations are where the COO typically shines. With a background in management and leadership, this position supports the CEO by taking care of routine administration while still contributing to key decisions within the company. The more hands-on approach allows the COO to design strategies and implement policies to carry out the decisions of the CEO throughout all levels of the business.

Chief financial officer

The financial operations of a company are the responsibility of the CFO. This individual must have in-depth knowledge of taxation and financial compliance laws. A person in this role keeps a watchful eye on profits to make sure the company stays on track. While tracking cash flow and financial planning are a big part of the job description, he or she also oversees any finance and accounting departments.

Chief information officer

Someone has to be in charge of a company’s data and technology infrastructure to keep the information secure. These are the general responsibilities of a CIO. As a valuable part of the C-suite, they make strategic decisions to protect the company from data breaches and cyber-attacks. A CIO usually has computer programming and coding skills, as well as a background in business analysis or information technology. In some companies, the CIO goes by the title of chief technology officer — or CTO.

Chief marketing officer

A CMO is a whiz at marketing. From social media and digital campaigns to physical and print ads, they know how to get the message across. Depending on the company, the CMO might be called the chief commercial officer (CCO). This person is a vital part of the C-level team and aligns product promotions with the company’s overall strategy and business plan. Without marketing, there may not be any new leads or repeat customers, and long-term operations can suffer.

How much do C-level executives make?

Like most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all pay scale for C-suite executives. One of the biggest factors in how much someone at this level earns is the size of the company.

For instance, according to Microsoft’s annual proxy statement, CEO Satya Nadella was paid $42.9 million in 2019. By comparison, the CEO of Starbucks, Kevin R. Johnson, made $13.8 million.

Those big salaries sound great, but that amount of money isn’t typical for most people at the C-level. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median salary of $189,600 for CEOs as of 2018. Other top executives came in a little below that with a median pay of $104,980 per year.

Still, a paycheck that tops more than $100,000 annually is a huge improvement over the average American household. The most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau reports a median annual income of $61,937. That means the average C-level executive makes roughly 70% more than an ordinary employee.

All that extra pay comes with an enormous amount of responsibility. A CEO is like the captain of the ship, with the other members of the C-suite acting as their first mate. Working together, the well-compensated executives carry a heavy burden for risk management. One mistake or oversight could send the company on a downhill slide. The team must keep their hands on the helm of the ship at all times and continuously adjust course to keep the business afloat.

How can you make it to the C-suite?

A functional skill set that gets the job done is crucial in the working world. However, technical know-how becomes less important the higher up you go in an organization. Instead, your leadership ability becomes a main focus.

The specific experience you need depends on the company you’re targeting. Many in the C-suite have bachelor’s or master’s degrees, so that can be an excellent place to start if you don’t already have those credentials.

In addition to formal education, being a good leader is something businesses value in a C-level executive. If you want to make it to the top, your focus should be on expanding your management abilities. Many C-suite executives have worked their way up through leadership roles within an organization before reaching this level.

Connecting goals with a comprehensive strategy is another valuable asset to have. When aiming for the C-suite, the ability to put together a business strategy that matches the company’s vision with its policies should be second nature.

The path to the top of your career ladder may not be a straight line. You can reach out to an executive search firm to help you locate a C-level position. Keep in mind that any detours you take along the way can give you experience that other executive contenders may not have. And that can give you the edge that eventually puts you on the shortlist of C-suite candidates.

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