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"Chief Executive", "CEO", and "CEOs" redirect here. For other uses, see Chief executive (disambiguation) and CEO (disambiguation)

A chief executive officer (CEO) is generally the most senior corporate officer (executive) or administrator in charge of managing a for-profit or non-profit organization. An individual appointed as a CEO of a corporation, company, nonprofit, or government agency typically reports to the board of directors. In British English, terms often used as synonyms for CEO include managing director (MD)[1] and chief executive (CE).[2]


The responsibilities of an organization's CEO or MD are set by the organization's board of directors or other authority, depending on the organization's legal structure. They can be far-reaching or quite limited and are typically enshrined in a formal delegation of authority.

Typically, the CEO/MD has responsibilities as a director, decision maker, leader, manager and executor. The communicator role can involve the press and the rest of the outside world, as well as the organization's management and employees; the decision-making role involves high-level decisions about policy and strategy. As a leader of the company, the CEO/MD advises the board of directors, motivates employees, and drives change within the organization. As a manager, the CEO/MD presides over the organization's day-to-day operations.[3]

The owner of a business that is registered as a proprietorship or as a sole proprietorship can also be called a CEO.


According to a study by Carola Frydman of MIT, from 1936 to the early 2000s there has been a rapid increase in the share of CEOs holding an MBA; from approximately 10% of CEOs in 1960 to more than 50% by the end of the century. Earlier in the century, top executives were more likely to have technical degrees in science and engineering or law degrees.[4]

International use[edit]

In some European Union countries, there are two separate boards, one executive board for the day-to-day business and one supervisory board for control purposes (selected by the shareholders). In these countries, the CEO presides over the executive board and the chairman presides over the supervisory board, and these two roles will always be held by different people. This ensures a distinction between management by the executive board and governance by the supervisory board. This allows for clear lines of authority. The aim is to prevent a conflict of interest and too much power being concentrated in the hands of one person.

In the United States, the board of directors (elected by the shareholders) is often equivalent to the supervisory board, while the executive board may often be known as the executive committee (the division/subsidiary heads and C-level officers that report directly to the CEO).

In the United States, and in business, the executive officers are usually the top officers of a corporation, the chief executive officer (CEO) being the best-known type. The definition varies; for instance, the California Corporate Disclosure Act defines "Executive Officers" as the five most highly compensated officers not also sitting on the board of directors. In the case of a sole proprietorship, an executive officer is the sole proprietor. In the case of a partnership, an executive officer is a managing partner, senior partner, or administrative partner. In the case of a limited liability company, executive officer is any member, manager or officer.

Related positions[edit]

Main article: Corporate title

In the US, the term chief executive officer is used exclusively in business,[citation needed] whereas the term executive director is used in the not-for-profit sector. These terms are mutually exclusive and refer to legal duties and responsibilities which are incompatible. Implicit in the use of these titles is that the public not be misled and the general standard regarding their use be consistently applied.

In the UK, "chief executive" and, much more rarely "chief executive officer", are used in both business and the charitable sector (not-for-profit sector).[5] As of 2013 the use of the term director for senior charity staff is deprecated to avoid confusion with the legal duties and responsibilities associated with being a charity director or trustee, which are normally non-executive (unpaid) roles.

Typically, a CEO has several subordinate executives, each of whom has specific functional responsibilities.[6]

Common associates include a chief administrative officer (CAO), chief brand officer (CBO), chief business development officer (CBDO), chief financial officer (CFO), chief operating officer (COO), chief sales officer (CSO), chief marketing officer (CMO), chief information officer (CIO), chief communications officer (CCO), chief legal officer (CLO), chief technology officer (CTO), chief risk officer (CRO), chief creative officer (CCO), chief compliance officer (CCO), chief audit executive (CAE), chief diversity officer (CDO), or chief human resources officer (CHRO), chief commercial officer (CCO), chief content officer (CCO), chief information security officer (CISO), chief accounting officer (CAO), chief analytics officer (CAO), chief web officer (CWO), and chief strategy officer (CSO).[citation needed]

Hospitals and healthcare organizations also often include a chief medical officer (CMO), a chief nursing officer (CNO), and a chief medical informatics officer (CMIO).[citation needed]

In the United Kingdom, the term director is used instead of chief officer. Senior positions may include the audit executive, business development director, chief executive, compliance director, creative director, director of communications, diversity director, financial director, human resources director, information technology director, legal affairs director, managing director (MD), marketing director, operations director and technical director.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Professional English in Use – Finance, Ian MacKenzie, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p.16
  2. ^ "Chief Executive Definition from Financial Times Lexicon". Lexicon.ft.com. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  3. ^ Capstone Publishing (2003). The Capstone Encyclopaedia of Business. Oxford, U.K: Capstone Publishing. pp. 79–80. ISBN 1-84112-053-7. 
  4. ^ Bertrand, Marianne (2012), "CEOs", Annual Review of Economics (Annual Reviews): 121–150, doi:10.1146/annurev.economics.050708.143301 
  5. ^ "Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations". Acevo.org.uk. 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 
  6. ^ Markus Menz (2011-10-04). "Menz, M. 2012. Functional Top Management Team Members: A Review, Synthesis, and Research Agenda. Journal of Management, 38(1): 45-80". Jom.sagepub.com. Retrieved 2012-11-28. 

External links[edit]

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