Among executive titles, chief strategy officer is one of the newest. As corporations get more complex, CEOs have begun to rely on a CSO as a middle step between their vision and the day-to-day execution overseen by the chief operating officer. Thus the CSO has become the right hand of the CEO. The position also ensures that someone at the top levels of business is thinking about and delivering on strategy and is therefore keeping the company competitive.
A CSO's role is to continuously examine the company as a whole and to have ready answers to critical business questions like: How do customers rate our customer service? Should we be investing in developing a new product or improving an existing product? When should we move into a new market? What companies should we consider acquiring? What are our competitors doing? The key factor in all of these questions is alignment with company strategy. The CSO must intimately understand what makes the company successful and how it will continue to be successful in the future. Then she must translate that knowledge into the ability to judge specific activities the company is undertaking, and ensure all of those activities are helping the company be successful.
CSOs must be experts at working with people, because they will need to build alliances in order to get all the information they need. Yet they must also ask hard questions and require that people make changes that help the company. The CSO often acts as the CEO's delegate, and thus he must be comfortable in a visible leadership position. He must be able to sort through and analyze a great deal of detailed information in light of a big-picture view of the business. He must have a strong ability to multitask, rather than being a pure analyst or thinker.
Most CSOs are experienced executives who have worn multiple hats and can both analyze and act with equal ease. An MBA might be required, or may be substituted for long experience in senior roles. There is no specific career path for becoming a CSO, but a candidate should demonstrate both expert business knowledge and a past record of strategic and tactical success.
An organization that is particularly large or complex, or whose competitive advantage depends upon strict adherence to its strategy, is more likely to have a chief strategy officer. However, smaller companies may not need to dedicate an executive to strategy. Most companies today leave the strategy development responsibility to the CEO and look to the chief operations officer to ensure it's executed.
Companies with CSOs
Current U.S. companies that have a CSO in their corporate structure include Cisco, Accenture, Nortel and Merkle, as well as many of the Fortune 500. Multinational companies such as Starbucks also use the title chief global strategist to indicate an executive tasked with ensuring the company is equally competitive in all its markets around the world.
Like most executive pay packages, the majority of a CSO's compensation comes in the form of equity and bonuses. These vary widely across industries and with the size of the company, as well as how early in the company's history the executive came on board. The figure may range from a few tens of thousands to many millions of dollars. Base salary figures have a narrower margin, but are still wider than for most non-executive jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for chief executives, including chief strategy officers, was $178,400 as of May 2013. The average wage for positions listed as chief strategy officer was $173,925 per year as of July 2014, according to the CareerBuilder website.