Division of Responsibilities Between a CEO and President
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To understand the difference between a chief executive officer, or CEO, and a president, you might think of the CEO as the "promise maker" and the president as the "promise keeper." The promise maker convinces employees and stakeholders to unite behind his vision of how and why a company will be successful. The promise keeper makes sure that people do the right things every day so the company achieves that vision. The president reports to the CEO and the CEO reports to the board of directors. In many companies, however, the same person holds both titles and shares the responsibility of both.
CEO – Vision and Strategy
The CEO develops the vision and strategy for the company in consultation with the board of directors. CEOs create short-term and long-term plans, establish budgets and communicate the vision and strategy to all employees. They supervise senior leaders in the company, including the president, to motivate and retain key talent and ensure a succession plan is in place for critical positions. CEOs make sure that their staff and the board of directors are informed about key initiatives and have the information they need to perform their roles.
CEO – Financial Management and Sales
CEOs oversee the financial management of the company. They monitor revenue and expenses to ensure they are aligned with the budget and make adjustments as necessary. Many CEOs assist in selling products and services to large or high-profile customers by participating in sales presentations. CEOs also meet with the company's most valuable customers to get feedback and help grow key customer relationships. Many CEOs participate in chamber of commerce or business association meetings to create a network of contacts and promote a positive image of the company in the community, or to raise funds or solicit investment from outside investors.
President – Operations and Updates
The president is responsible for the day-to-day operating activities of the company. Presidents translate the company's vision and strategy into action plans that describe the activities people perform to carry out the strategy and achieve the vision. A president works with department leaders to tailor action plans to each unit and monitors progress against milestones and goals. Presidents provide regular reports to the CEO to ensure she is knowledgeable about all company operations and anything unusual that occurs, so the CEO is not surprised by a question from an employee or board member. Presidents also provide regular updates to the CEO and the board on company progress in executing the company's strategic plan.
President – Policies, Procedures and Measures
Presidents develop measures and key performance indicators to monitor company operations. They work with senior leaders to ensure proper policies are in place, such as a reimbursement policy for business travel expenses, and that procedures, such as hiring or termination of employees, comply with laws and regulations. A president plans and budgets for capital expenditures, manages the operating budget on a daily basis and works with department leaders to improve efficiency. For example, a president may approve or budget for new software that a business leader requests to significantly improve efficiency. Presidents also provide leadership and direction to staff when the CEO is absent.
Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.