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What is a chief data officer? A leader who creates value from all things data

Minda Zetlin | Oct. 26, 2017
A chief data officer oversees a range of data-related functions to ensure your organization is getting the most from what could be its most valuable asset.


What to look for in a chief data officer

What kind of background makes an effective chief data officer? “Right now, 70 percent are math people and 30 percent grew up in engineering,” says Mike Doonan, partner at the high-tech recruiting firm SPMB in San Francisco. “I think that’s going to turn into 70 percent engineering because, in general, the math people are often experimenting. They’re almost scientists trying to prove a point with data, versus creating an infrastructure to use data properly and help the business make decisions.”

Gomis says he’s also seen chief data officers come from marketing backgrounds, and that some are MBAs who have never worked in data analytics before. “Most of them have failed, but the companies that hired them felt that the influencer skill set was more important than the data analytics skill set.”

Good people skills certainly could be useful for getting out of the bind many new chief data officers find themselves in. “One of the biggest mistakes is not understanding what it will take to succeed, in terms of expectations,” Gomis says. “If you look at a lot of the people who have had the title of chief data officers and chief analytics officer over the last three years, there’s a tremendous amount of turnover.” When you talk to them and their former employers, “It turns out that the expectation of the company and the candidates were not aligned,” he adds.

Often, the problem is unrealistic expectations from an employer. “The biggest mistake companies make is to expect that because they’ve hired someone the problem is solved,” says Justin Cerilli, who heads the data and analytics practice for consultancy Russell Reynolds Associates. “Actually, you’re just starting to solve the problem — the tough decisions are still to come. That’s when you start asking who our people are, what our processes are, and how do we change our culture. CEOs tell chief data officers to change everything to get the end results they want, but don’t want to change the way they do anything.”


Chief data officer salary

According to compensation analysis from PayScale, the median chief data officer salary is $184,335 per year, with total pay, including bonuses and profit share, ranging from $122,818 to $304,834 annually.


Chief data officer jobs

A recent search for chief data officer jobs on and LinkedIn showed positions available in a range of industries, including retail, media, financial services, higher education and government.

A sampling of chief data officer job descriptions shows key area of responsibilities such as: evangelizing and communicating a data vision a critical part of growth strategy; creating strategic data access policies; developing and executing a central data strategy to drive revenue; overseeing data governance, data investment and partnerships; and strategizing with C-level colleagues.

Companies are looking for, for example, highly motivated, experienced innovators who have produced tangible results, as well as senior-level leadership over data and/or analytics departments for seven or more years.


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