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Changing roles inside the C-suite

Thornton May | May 8, 2015
If we want to get clues about the future of the CIO, it is incumbent upon us to be aware of the changing roles of the CEO, the CMO and the CFO.

We spend a whole lot of time in the IT world wondering about the future of the CIO role. It's a question of endless fascination, but we mustn't forget that CIOs are not the only C in the C-suite. And the fact is that the success of the CIO and the IT organization is very much a function of our relationship with those other executives. That means that if we want to get clues about the future of the CIO, it is incumbent upon us to be aware of the changing roles of the CEO, the CMO and the CFO.

Everything changes, even the CEO

No one is insulated from change. Two hundred years ago, the boss was the boss. The 1815 CEO was a "my-way-or-the-highway" whip-cracker (think Andrew Jackson and Napoleon). Fifty years ago, the CEO archetype achieved corporate objectives by architecting incentives (think Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his very quantitative approach to managing the Vietnam War). Today, many view the role of the modern CEO as a designer-in-chief of corporate culture with the objective being risk-savvy employees able to independently recognize problems and fix them.

I'm not saying that all CEOs have evolved in lockstep. Even today you can probably find more than a few Simon Legrees in corporate America. And to revert to the military example, World War II saw an early flowering of the empowering CEO. According to Paul Johnson, author of Eisenhower: A Life, when Dwight Eisenhower reported to Gen. Marshall at the War Department in December 1941, Marshall explained the role of a senior executive:

In direct opposition to McNamara's management-by-the-numbers approach, modern CEOs create environments where employees can solve their own problems. They focus on inputs over outputs. Outputs are metrics like sales figures and market share. Inputs are ineffable things like creating an environment where employees feel both safe and motivated enough to fail when trying something new.

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, is an entrepreneur and hedge fund manager. In an interview with Tyler Cowen, author of Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation,Thiel described his concept of the leader of the future:

According to the Wolff Olins' Leadership Report 2015:

Gary Loveman, CEO at Caesar's, believes the modern CEO's role is to ask tough questions:

The CMO confronts the customer

Because of the obvious importance of customers and the widespread embrace of top-of-the-house-initiated campaigns to become customer-centric, the CMO role is thought by many to be expanding. And in certain cases, it is. Andy Childs, CMO at Paychex, owns not only traditional marketing, but strategic planning and M&A as well. But such is the importance that customers have achieved that other corporate officers are getting involved in the quest to nurture them -- including the CIO. Meanwhile, there are indications that the status -- the "executiveness" -- of the CMO is declining. As reported in TheWall Street Journal, a recent Korn Ferry survey found that 34% of respondents said they think their CMO could be a likely CEO candidate. But when the same question was posed two years ago, 54% of respondents said they thought their CMO was poised for the company's top job.


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