What is the point of a COO? A CEO? A CVO? A CKO?

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The COO. Chief Operating Officer. What, exactly, does that even mean? What do COOs do?

Mostly, they do what CEOs don't have time to do – the menial toil of running the company, whether it's marketing and sales or research and development.  It's different for every company.  Often though, the COO studies to be the next CEO. Having a COO is a way of training, evaluating and grooming a future CEO.

But COOs are a dying breed. Since 2000, the percentage of S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies with COO positions has shrunk from 49 percent to 35 percent. Many companies, according to executive placement firm CristKolder, are realizing that these duties can increasingly be taken on by chief financial officers, who aren’t as limited to numbers knowledge as they were in previous eras.


By Shea Huffman

"C-suite" or "C-level" refers to the highest-level executives at a company, taking their name from the three-letter initials starting with "C" that make up their titles. The most familiar such positions are chief executive officer (CEO), chief operations officer (COO) and chief financial officer (CFO). Such titles usually tell you who holds the power in different organizations, but recent trends, especially in the start-up scene, have all sorts of C-suite officers popping up that have some wondering what their titles actually mean.

Here are five C-suite titles we've found that seem a bit unusual in name at first, but might (or might not) make some sense once you figure out what they do.

Chief Agility Officer

Sounds like an executive for a clan of ninjas, or the self-given title of a football coach. Alas, the "agility" this title refers to is the corporate variety, not the physical. This one is technically a proposed position, but it derives its moniker from the growing agility movement, a corporate philosophy that emphasizes eschewing a rules-based work process in favor of an organization that is highly responsive to change. The chief agility officer, in that sense, is "tasked with creating and nurturing an Agile culture that pervades the whole organization."

Chief Knowledge Officer

Did the head librarian decide her title wasn't exciting enough? No, this officer is actually a fairly common position to see these days in companies like advertising firms, legal firms or even NASA. A chief knowledge officer is typically in charge of research and analytics for her company, gathering information on technology, customer relationships and successful business practices. They're also usually in charge of formulating and executing whatever strategic company-wide goals an organization wants to strive for, and to make sure they don't lose that knowledge after achieving a success; basically remembering what worked best. If it sounds similar to the more common chief information officer, that's because they do pretty much the same thing, but with different buzzwords. But CKOs totally swear they're different and you shouldn't get rid of them.

Chief Networking Officer

A networking officer sounds like a position a fraternity would cook up for setting up parties with all the popular sororities. CNOs are often favored by ad agencies and consulting firms, and are in charge of well, networking; they connect people and businesses within their companies with people and businesses outside their companies. The position can have some overlap with a chief marketing officer, but with less of a focus on sales and customer service, and more of a focus on communicating between offices and setting up those boring team-building exercises you always skip. A chief networking officer can also refer to a technical executive in charge of computer networking strategy, which arguably makes more sense.

Chief Visionary Officer

In the land of vague titles and start-up companies with unclear purposes, the chief visionary officer is king (or queen). Or really, they advise the king or queen (the CEO) on which direction to take the company. As the title can be used to formalize an advising position, the CVO is typically a high-ranking executive who performs executive duties, but with added responsibilities of creating a forward vision for the company, especially if they are operating in a fairly new industry. Internet pioneer Einar Stefferud is ususally recognized as the first CVO.

Chief Electrification Officer

If this one sounds like a title from the early 1900s that refers to the person who kept the all the lights on, that's because that's exactly what it is. Not normally used anymore in developed countries, the electrification officer was responsible for managing the electrical generating and distribution systems at companies during the beginnings of electrification in industry. The title still pops up occasionally in developing countries that still lack universal electricity. It also makes for a pretty cool title for the co-founder of a solar power start-up.

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.

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