More than 100 years ago, the letters C-E-O at a large company might have stood for “chief electricity officer,” a title that recognized the crucial role electric power played in modernizing and growing companies. Today, emerging technologies, business conditions and even management fads are encouraging companies to dream up new C-suite-level titles. You may have never heard of a chief behavioural officer—but between 10 and 20 Fortune 500 companies already have one.
“We’re always creating expertise and expert titles for people who then have to come up with solutions,” says Sotirios Paroutis, an associate professor at Warwick Business School in Coventry, England. “And as things become more complex and challenging, more titles will be created. It’s a part of corporate life.” Here are some of the new C-suite designations over the past four decades, their rationale and the number of companies actually using the titles today.
First used: 1984
How many are there?: 37
Guy Kawasaki made the title famous at Apple computers during the ’80s. Kawasaki noted his role was “to protect and preserve the Macintosh cult by doing whatever I had to do.” Vint Cerf, one of the “founders” of the Internet, is presently chief Internet evangelist at Google.
“Having a title is a way of attracting and maintaining talent,” says Paroutis. “These roles give people a clear career path in terms of their personal progression.”
Chief Information Officer
First used: 1986
How many are there?: 5,167
While the CIO title existed slightly earlier, it came to prominence in 1986, when Businessweek ran a story on Bank of America and American Airlines. The headline read, “Management’s Newest Star: Meet the Chief Information Officer.”
Chief Risk Officer
First used: 1992
How many are there?: 1,249
Speaking at a risk and insurance conference in Atlanta, Logic Associates president Bill Perry mused his field might become increasingly important. “There may even one day be a chief risk officer designation listed among top management,” he added. Last year, a Deloitte survey of large firms found 21% of respondents employed a CRO.
Chief Diversity Officer
First used: 1996
How many are there?: 92
Texaco created the position of CDO following the settlement of a discrimination lawsuit by a group of its African-American employees.
“It’s a perfect example of a function being elevated to centre stage,” says Paroutis. “It frames human resources as being responsible for developing talent and helping with an employee’s career. It has a more positive connotation than ‘human resources.’”
Chief Talent Officer
First used: 2000
How many are there?: 81
Texas company Hire.com, one of the first firms to use the title, predicted CTO would become “one of the hottest new jobs of 2000.”
Chief Innovation Officer
First used: 2000
How many are there?: 178
Textron, the U.S. conglomerate that owns Bell Helicopter and Cessna Aircraft, among other companies, tasked its first CIO to “aggressively lead” its e-business strategy. This year’s CIO Summit in New York City is expected to attract more than 250 attendees.
Chief Fun Officer
First used: 2001
How many are there?: at least 1
In 1990, the April Fool’s edition of an Intel Corporation in-house publication announced the company’s CFO had been named “chief fun officer” and was responsible for improving workplace conditions. The story said people who stay past 3 p.m. “receive a choice of barbecued filet mignon or mesquite-broiled salmon.” But some reports suggest IBM employed a chief fun officer in India.
Chief Sustainability Officer
First used: 2004
How many are there?: 51
American chemical firm DuPont tapped a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator to oversee health and environment programs, and advance “sustainable growth.”
Chief Digital Officer
First used: 2005
How many are there?: 129
MTV Networks created the position to lead the music-television network’s digital businesses and strategy. Last year, Wired asked, “Is 2014 the Year of the Chief Digital Officer?” and went with the prediction that 25% of IT companies will have a CDO by 2015.
Chief Agility Officer
First used: 2009
How many are there?: 13
This individual is responsible for creating a nimble culture in a firm that is responsive to change. Or as the CAO at Manhattan Agriculture says, “I excel at understanding the full-picture and operationalizing systems to get teams to work smart and brands to engage effectively.”
Chief Listening Officer
First used: 2010
How many are there?: 35
Introduced in 2005, the title was adopted by Kodak and Dell five years later to track and make sense of public impressions and queries about their companies. Dell chief listener Susan Beebe describes her job as “broad listening.”
Visual Executive Officer
First used: 2010
How many are there?: 1
Rhode Island–based Hotwire Inc., a brand and marketing firm, calls the position “a visual translator for the 21st century.” Hotwire VEO Kenn Boostrom told Fast Company: “Well, I don’t have X-ray vision, but I do love to talk about the synapse.”
“Sometimes companies don’t get these titles right,” says Paroutis. “Creating a title might help keep a particular executive at the company, but in the long term, it may not be relevant to a particular issue or help an organization solve its problem.”