Chief operating officer
A Chief Operating Officer (or Chief Operations Officer; COO) or Director of Operations (or Operations Director) can be one of the highest-ranking executives in an organization and comprises part of the "C-Suite". The COO is responsible for the daily operation of the company
A company is a form of business organization. It is an association or collection of individual real persons and/or other companies, who each provide some form of capital. This group has a common purpose or focus and an aim of gaining profits. This collection, group or association of persons can be...

, and routinely reports to the highest ranking executive, usually the Chief Executive Officer
Chief executive officer
A chief executive officer , managing director , Executive Director for non-profit organizations, or chief executive is the highest-ranking corporate officer or administrator in charge of total management of an organization...

 (CEO). The COO may also carry the title of President
A president is a leader of an organization, company, trade union, university, or country.Etymologically, a president is one who presides, who sits in leadership...

 which makes him or her the clear number-two in command at the firm, especially if the highest ranking executive is the Chairman and CEO. In some cases, the duties of COO may be carried out by a sub-C-Suite executive such as a Director of Operations, Operations Director, Vice-President of Operations, or Executive Director.

Unlike other C-suite positions, which tend to be defined according to commonly designated responsibilities across most companies, the COO job tends to be defined in relation to the specific CEO with whom he/she works, given the close working relationship of these two individuals. In many ways, the selection of a COO is similar to the selection of a Vice President of the United States: the role (including the power and responsibilities therein) can vary dramatically, depending on the style and needs of the President of the United States. Thus, the COO role is highly contingent and situational, as the role changes from company to company and even from CEO to successor CEO within the same company. In a similar vein to the COO, the title of corporate President as a separate position (as opposed to President and CEO, or President and COO) is also loosely defined. For instance Richard D. Parsons during his tenure as President of Time Warner
Time Warner
Time Warner is one of the world's largest media companies, headquartered in the Time Warner Center in New York City. Formerly two separate companies, Warner Communications, Inc...

 from 1995 to 2001 was number two in the company hierarchy but had no authority over the operating divisions, and instead took on assignments at the bequest of the CEO. Michael Capellas
Michael Capellas
Michael David Capellas is Chief Executive Officer of AcadiaEnterprises, LLC a joint venture of Cisco and EMC with investment from Intel and VMware. He also serves as Chairman of the Virtual Computing Environment coalition...

 was appointed President of Hewlett-Packard
Hewlett-Packard Company or HP is an American multinational information technology corporation headquartered in Palo Alto, California, USA that provides products, technologies, softwares, solutions and services to consumers, small- and medium-sized businesses and large enterprises, including...

 in order to ease its acquisition and integration of Compaq
Compaq Computer Corporation is a personal computer company founded in 1982. Once the largest supplier of personal computing systems in the world, Compaq existed as an independent corporation until 2002, when it was acquired for US$25 billion by Hewlett-Packard....

, where Capellas was Chairman and CEO, but ending up served just six months as HP president before departing. His former role of president was not filled as the executives who reported to him then reported directly to the CEO.

Many modern companies operate without a COO. For example, in 2006 more than 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies did not have a COO, and in 2007 almost 58 percent of Fortune 500 companies did not have a COO. In these instances the CEO either takes on more roles and responsibilities, or the roles traditionally assigned to the COO are carried out by sub C-suite executives (as discussed above). Although the number of COOs has been in decline for the past 10 years, there are reasons to anticipate an increased utilization of the position in the future, including:
  • Companies are becoming larger and more complex, making it more difficult for one person alone to have total oversight over the whole organization
  • Companies are finding a strong relationship between firm performance and the presence of a COO
  • Companies are becoming more deliberate about CEO succession planning and will use the role to on-board and train successors
  • The increase in talent mobility means that the role will likely be used more often as a retention mechanism for key executives that are at risk for moving to a competitor

Roles and functions

The role of the COO differs from industry to industry and from organization to organization. Some organizations function without a COO. Others may have two COOs, each assigned to oversee several business lines or divisions, such as Lehman Brothers
Lehman Brothers
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. was a global financial services firm. Before declaring bankruptcy in 2008, Lehman was the fourth largest investment bank in the USA , doing business in investment banking, equity and fixed-income sales and trading Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (former NYSE ticker...

 from 2002-04 when Bradley Jack and Joseph M. Gregory were the co-COOs. A COO could also be brought in from other organizations as a "fixer," such as Daniel J. O'Neill who in 1999 joined Molson in that capacity.

In the manufacturing sector, the primary role of the COO is routinely one of operations management, meaning that the CEO is responsible for the development, design, operation, and improvement of the systems that create and deliver the firm's products. The COO is responsible for ensuring that business operations are efficient and effective and that the proper management of resources, distribution of goods and services to customers, and analysis of queue systems is conducted.

Despite the functional diversity associated with the role of COO, there are some common functions the COOs usually perform:
  • At the direction of the CEO and Board of Directors, marshaling limited resources to the most productive uses with the aim of creating maximum value for the company's stakeholders
  • Developing and cascading the organization’s strategy/mission statement to the lower-ranking staff, and implementing appropriate rewards/recognition and coaching/corrective practices to align personnel with company goals
  • Planning by prioritizing customer, employee and organizational requirements
  • Maintaining and monitoring staffing, levels, Knowledge-Skills-Attributes (KSA), expectations and motivation to fulfill organizational requirements
  • Driving performance measures for the operation (including a consideration of efficiency versus effectiveness), often in the form of dashboards convenient for review of high level key indicators

COO as successor

Routinely in large organizations the COO will be the heir apparent
Heir apparent
An heir apparent or heiress apparent is a person who is first in line of succession and cannot be displaced from inheriting, except by a change in the rules of succession....

 to the CEO. They may have worked their way internally up the company ladder before being named COO, or they may have been recruited from an outside company. Either way, the position is used as a training and testing ground for the next CEO. For instance, at CIBC and Bank of Montreal
Bank of Montreal
The Bank of Montreal , , or BMO Financial Group, is the fourth largest bank in Canada by deposits. The Bank of Montreal was founded on June 23, 1817 by John Richardson and eight merchants in a rented house in Montreal, Quebec. On May 19, 1817 the Articles of Association were adopted, making it...

, the position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) was created specifically for Gerald T. McCaughey
Gerald T. McCaughey
Gerald T. McCaughey is the president and CEO of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.-Early years:...

 and Bill Downe
Bill Downe
William A. Downe is a Canadian bank executive. He became president and chief executive officer of Bank of Montreal on March 1, 2007.- Career :...

, respectively. Creating this role was to facilitate these executives’ transitions and to groom them before the sitting CEOs retired. In both cases, the newly appointed COO took over the day-to-day responsibilities and strategic planning activities, while the outgoing CEO was relegated to advisory duties. Once the new CEO was formally installed, the COO position was not replaced. A 2003 Crist Associates study revealed that only 17% of companies that promote a COO to a CEO replace the COO within the next year.

An Accenture study found that approximately one in nine COO’s moved into the CEO’s shoes within a year of their departure and that half of COO’s see themselves as the “heir apparent.” COO’s transitioning into the CEO role often face similar challenges including:
  • Not being automatically granted the luxury of a “diagnostic period.” Given that they know the company, COO’s turned CEO’s are often expected to hit the ground running when in actuality they too need to enter diagnostic mode to fully understand their new role and to see the Company from a new perspective.
  • Finding time to manage a new key stakeholder: The Board. Many COO’s turned CEO’s are often surprised how time-intensive managing the Board of Directors can be and must learn to incorporate this important responsibility into an already packed schedule.
  • Being in the spotlight. COO’s are used to having the luxury of working “behind the scenes.” As CEO, many are surprised to find they have become a “public” figure both inside and outside the organization and must learn how to manage this additional obligation.
  • Recalibrating their image. Often COO’s struggle not with the strategy portion of the job itself, but overcoming the perception of other stakeholders that they are an “execution” executive versus a “strategy” executive.

According to researchers Miles and Bennett, just knowing these common pitfalls can help a COO “heir” better prepare for the transition, thereby avoiding them in totality and/or ensuring that at least they do not evolve into full derailers once they are in the CEO seat.

Seven "types"

Recent research has shown that there are seven “types” of COOs:
The Executor
Leads the implementation of strategies developed by the CEO and top management team. A COO in this role typically is responsible for the day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter results of the business. This type is most often seen in logistically or operationally complex businesses.

The Change Agent
Leads the efforts towards the accomplishment of a specific strategic objective.

The Mentor
Guides and advises a young CEO.

The Other Half
Complements the CEO’s experience, knowledge, personality and/or skills.

The Partner
Partners with the CEO in a “two-in-the-box” arrangement.

The Heir Apparent
COO role is designed to groom and test the next CEO.

The title is used as an incentive to retain an important executive in order to avoid losing the executive to a competitor.

Relationship with CEO

Because the COO is often responsible for serving as an information conduit to the CEO, it is essential that the relationship between COO and CEO be a positive one. Trust is the most important ingredient necessary for a CEO-COO relationship to thrive. The CEO must have full confidence that the COO is not making direct passes for their job, can get the work done, and shares their vision (rather than using their trusted spot and access to information to undermine the CEO’s strategy or implement his own vision). When a relationship built upon trust is created between the CEO and COO, firm performance is improved and shareholder results are strengthened. Seven strategies that are key to building trust in the CEO-COO relationship include:
  1. Communication—The CEO has to be comfortable sharing information with the COO and regularly communicating the strategy and any changes to it. Similarly, the COO has to be comfortable regularly providing status updates to the CEO. When communication breaks down, mistrust and/or misunderstanding is likely to crop up.
  2. Clear Decision Rights—The COO role appears to work the best when the roles and responsibilities of the COO have been clearly delineated ahead of time and the COO is allowed to make the final decision within pre-agreed upon scope.
  3. Lock on the Backdoor—The CEO must not undermine the COO’s credibility by continually reversing decisions. When employees learn that they can get a different answer by going directly to the CEO as opposed to the COO, the COO role quickly becomes impotent.
  4. Sharing the Spotlight—In effective CEO-COO relationships, both parties are comfortable with how much “credit” they receive for their work internally, externally, from the Board of Directors, and from each other.
  5. Fit between CEO & COO—The two individuals must respect each other and effectively partner together. This is not a partnership that can be forced.
  6. Fit Between the COO & the Position—The selected COO must have the right credentials to carry out the purpose for which the COO role was created (which can include everything from operations expertise to change expertise to having a complementary skill set to the CEO).
  7. Transparency of Succession Expectations and Timeline—Both parties must understand whether the COO desires the CEO job, whether the COO is in consideration for the top job, and what the timing might be for such a transition.

Relationship with board of directors

In addition to having a strong and trusting relationship with the CEO, the COO should also have an effective relationship with the Board. A good relationship between COO and the Board allows the Board of Directors to better understand and independently judge a potential successor. A strong relationship between the Board and the COO also offers the Board an additional expert opinion on the health of the company, and status of key initiatives. It benefits the CEO to allow such a relationship to form because it reflects confidence and fosters transparency. It also reinforces that the CEO is capable of developing talent, and helps the CEO to retain the COO by further empowering the individual. A strong relationship benefits the COO in that he or she is able to expand their experience as well as their professional network. Additionally, if they are looking to be the next CEO, it allows them to develop credibility with the Board. Researchers advise the COO to go beyond simply presenting at board meetings, to ensure they are developing strong one-on-one relationships with each board director. Researchers also urge the COO to develop his or her own voice, independent of the CEO.

Failure in the COO role

While the role of the COO is crucial to firm success, it can often be a tricky one to master. Any breakdown in trust between the CEO and COO can lead to failure. Additionally, the COO typically has to be a very high level leader who is comfortable not being fully in charge. Many executives with the leadership skills necessary to be a top level COO would prefer to be running their own show as opposed to taking orders from a CEO. For COOs who are expecting to serve their time and be promoted to the top spot, their timelines for such a move can often be out of sync with the CEO’s, causing a breakdown in the relationship. COOs can also find themselves trapped into being labeled an "operations" person or a "Number 2" as opposed to being seen as strategic and top-level leader by the Board of Directors, which causes some executives to steer clear of the position. Harry Levinson, Ph.D., effectively summarized the challenges of the COO position: "The relationship between the chief executive officer and the chief operating officer in any organization is fraught with many psychological complexities. Perhaps it is the most difficult of all organizational working relationships because more than others, it is a balancing act on the threshold of power."

Experts and research

Nathan Bennett and Stephen A. Miles
Stephen A. Miles
Stephen A. Miles is an author and consultant to CEOs and corporate boards of directors. He is a Vice Chairman of Heidrick & Struggles, a member of the global CEO and board practice and a member of the firm’s management committee.-Background:...

 have published extensively on the subject of the COO. In addition to writing a book dedicated to analyzing this hard-to-understand position, their research has been published in the Harvard Business Review, MIT Management Review and Chief Their work focuses on identifying different types of COOs, when the role works to deliver additional value, and when the role fails to produce the desired results. Their research includes interviews with more than a hundred CEOs and COOs on the topic.

List of notable COOs

The following is subdivided into current and former COO's as of August 2010. This list is incomplete and subjective as towards the notoriety of the individual.


  • Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook
    Facebook is a social networking service and website launched in February 2004, operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc. , Facebook has more than 800 million active users. Users must register before using the site, after which they may create a personal profile, add other users as...

     since 2008
  • Don Thompson, McDonald's
    McDonald's Corporation is the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, serving around 64 million customers daily in 119 countries. Headquartered in the United States, the company began in 1940 as a barbecue restaurant operated by the eponymous Richard and Maurice McDonald; in 1948...

     since 2010
  • Brian Kevin Turner, Microsoft Corp.
    Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

     since 2010
  • Christopher E. Kubasik, Lockheed Martin Corporation since 2010
  • John Leahy, Airbus
    Airbus SAS is an aircraft manufacturing subsidiary of EADS, a European aerospace company. Based in Blagnac, France, surburb of Toulouse, and with significant activity across Europe, the company produces around half of the world's jet airliners....

     since 2005; also serving as Chief Commercial Officer since 1994
  • Russell Freeman, Perot Systems
    Perot Systems
    Perot Systems was an information technology services provider founded in 1988 by a group of investors led by Ross Perot and based in Plano, Texas, United States. A Fortune 1000 corporation with offices in more than 25 countries, Perot Systems employed more than 23,000 people and had an annual...

     ; also serving as Chief Financial Officer since 1994
  • Hari N. Nair, Tenneco Inc. since 2010
  • Yahya I. Al-Kurdi, Huawei
    Huawei is a Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China...

     since 2011
  • Tim Reeves, Commenwealth War Graves Commission since 2006


  • Timothy D. Cook, Apple Inc. (2007-2011) until promoted to CEO when Steve Jobs
    Steve Jobs
    Steven Paul Jobs was an American businessman and inventor widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. He was co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc...

     resigned; also served as Acting-CEO during Steve Jobs'
    Steve Jobs
    Steven Paul Jobs was an American businessman and inventor widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. He was co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc...

     medical leaves in 2004, 2009 and 2011
  • Janice Fields, McDonald's USA Executive Vice-President and COO (2006–2010) then President (2010–Present)
  • Roger Goodell
    Roger Goodell
    Roger S. Goodell is the Commissioner of the National Football League , having been chosen to succeed the retiring Paul Tagliabue on August 8, 2006. He was chosen over four finalists for the position, winning a close vote on the fifth ballot before being unanimously approved by acclamation of the...

    , NFL Executive Vice-President and COO (2001–2006) then Commissioner (2006–Present)
  • Jeffrey Skilling
    Jeffrey Skilling
    Jeffrey Keith "Jeff" Skilling is the former president of Enron Corporation, headquartered in Houston, Texas. In 2006 he was convicted of multiple federal felony charges relating to Enron's financial collapse, and is currently serving a 24-year, four-month prison sentence at the Federal...

    , Enron
    Enron Corporation was an American energy, commodities, and services company based in Houston, Texas. Before its bankruptcy on December 2, 2001, Enron employed approximately 22,000 staff and was one of the world's leading electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with...

     President and COO (1997–2001) then CEO (2001) until his resignation in 2001
  • Robert W. Pittman
    Robert W. Pittman
    Robert Warren "Bob" Pittman , is an American businessman and the founder of MTV. On October 2, 2011, Pittman was named CEO of Clear Channel Media Holdings, Inc.. Pittman has also been the CEO of MTV Networks, AOL, Six Flags Theme Parks, Quantum Media, Century 21 Real Estate and Time Warner...

    , AOL
    AOL Inc. is an American global Internet services and media company. AOL is headquartered at 770 Broadway in New York. Founded in 1983 as Control Video Corporation, it has franchised its services to companies in several nations around the world or set up international versions of its services...

     (1996–2001) and AOL Time Warner (2001–2002)
  • Bob Herbold
    Bob Herbold
    Robert J. "Bob" Herbold, retired executive vice president and chief operating officer of Microsoft Corporation, is the Managing Director of The Herbold Group, LLC, a consulting business focused on executive training and profitability.-Biography:...

    , Microsoft
    Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

    Executive Vice President and COO (1994–2001) then Executive Vice President assisting in the government, industry, and customer areas (2001–2003)
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