What Is C-Suite? (Plus How To Become a Successful Leader)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Professionals often refer to the different ranks of executives in the workplace as c-suite, d-suite and b-suite, amongst others. Most people that enter the corporate world aspire to progress into a key decision-making role as the lucrative opportunity allows them to determine the trajectory of an organisation. Understanding the different ranks of leadership within the workplace can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills to flourish in each position. In this article, we define the difference between what is c-suite, b-suite and d-suite professionals and advise you on how to progress towards higher ranks.

Related: 12 Leadership Examples for the Workplace

What is c-suite?

C-suite executives are the highest-ranking professionals in the workplace. The letter c connotes the word chief, referring to the top designations in the corporate hierarchy. Often, individuals with this designation make the most pivotal decisions. Their duty is to surround themselves with the talent to advise them on the best course of action and to help them increase productivity and profitability.

Most c-suite executives report to a board of directors and together they can set achievable organisational goals and remain accountable to each other. Individuals in these positions have a high degree of authority, therefore people regard them as the public face of the firm. The following is a list of common c-suite designations in the corporate environment:

Chief executive officer

The chief executive officer (CEO) is the topmost position in the corporate hierarchy. They are responsible for managing the company and directing its future growth. CEOs serve as the most powerful leader within an organisation, therefore it's important that they liaise with the board of directors, investors and even the public to garner support for their decisions.

In a small company, the CEO is usually the owner or founder. Whereas, in a multinational corporation, you can rise along the ranks to get appointed as the company's CEO. Since the role entails a vast amount of responsibility, you need a combination of confidence and experience to succeed in this position.

Chief operations officer

The chief operations officer (COO) is the second person in charge of the company after the CEO. As their job title suggests, their duty is to oversee the operations of an organisation as a whole. Other c-suite executives and department heads may report to them so that they can provide an accurate representation of the company's performance to the CEO.

Together with the CEO, they may attend meetings with the board of directors to report on their progress and future initiatives. Most COOs eventually enter the rank of CEO. When the CEO needs to take a leave of absence, the COO may also take up their duties temporality.

Chief financial officer

A chief financial officer (CFO) oversees all the financial decisions of a company. Their expertise in finance, economics and data analysis makes them capable of safeguarding their organisation's financial interest. As a CFO, your goal would be to increase a company's profitability and reduce its debts. This includes overseeing balance sheets, approving budgets, exploring partnership opportunities, building relationships with creditors and advising c-suite executives of financial decision-making.

Chief technology officer

A chief technology officer (CTO) is responsible for a company's technological innovation and advancement. This is an especially crucial role in firms that specialise in computer software or hardware development. CTOs surround themselves with experts in the field to predict the future needs of customers and to create new technological solutions. Since this is a relatively new designation in the digital age, CTOs need to have excellent communication skills to discuss complex subjects with other c-suite executives that may have only foundational knowledge in computer engineering.

Chief marketing officer

The chief marketing officer works their way up from a marketing or sales position. As a CMO, your duty is to raise brand awareness and bolster the reputation of your products and services in the public eye. CMOs work with a team of marketing and sales executives to identify opportunities to capture new leads, build customer loyalty and increase their following and sales. By remaining up-to-date with the latest trends and industry movements, CMOs can promote their brand's longevity.

Chief human resources officer

A chief human resources officer (CHRO) runs a company's HR department and oversees the health and wellness of its employees. Their job is to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field to improve the quality of hires and to increase job satisfaction among existing employees. A CHRO leads by example. Most employees look up to them as a role model of the company's values. Thus, they work alongside the CEO to create a safe and happy work environment for all.

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What are d-suite executives?

D-suite executives are managers that rank under c-suite executives in the corporate chain of command. The letter d connotes the word department, referring to the department heads that report directly to their c-suite counterpart. D-suite executives are tasked with overseeing mid-level managers to ensure that operations run smoothly within their department. While c-suite executives set the vision for different business functions, d-suite executives are responsible for creating actionable line items to meet these goals. The following are some examples of common d-suite positions:

  • Director of marketing

  • Director of sales

  • Director of customer service

  • Director of human resources

  • Head of product development

  • Head of finance

  • Head of compliance

What is b-suite?

B-suite executives are mid-level managers that monitor a small team as they carry out projects delegated to them by the department head. These managers coordinate with and report to d-suite executives to update them on their team's progress. You can think of b-suite managers as the professionals that execute the goals of higher-ranking professionals in the corporate hierarchy. They essentially work with junior employees to ensure they deliver work that meets the company's standards. The following are some examples of common b-suite positions:

  • Sales manager

  • Account manager

  • Marketing manager

  • Public relations manager

  • Communications manager

  • Software development manager

  • IT manager

  • Payroll Manager

  • Accounts Manager

  • Human resources manager

  • Learning and development manager

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How to be a successful c-suite executive

While not all professionals aspire to be a c-suite executive, the position appeals to most people because of its prestige and lucrative compensation package. However, being a CEO or a COO usually comes with a lot of hard work. Before achieving this rank, most professionals spend years fine-tuning their skills and bolstering their reputation in the corporate world. The following outlines how to advance your career to the c-suite rank:

1. Choose the right career track

Most c-suite executives work their way up the ranks within a company. Thus, decide whether you want to become a business leader in a certain field, such as finance or human resources, or pursue a career in business development to become a CEO or a COO. Many companies also offer management trainee programs that ambitious young graduates can apply for. This pathway fast-tracks your progress into the b-suite and provides you with close training and mentorship so that you can eventually become a c-suite executive within the company.

2. Develop leadership qualities

Most c-suite executives stand out from other professionals because of their ability to motivate and inspire a team. They have a knack for strategic decision-making and can pool together experts from different fields to propel a company forward. Thus, if you aspire to become a c-suite executive, it's essential to develop your leadership skills.

Aside from taking up leadership positions outside the workplace to refine your skills, you can pursue higher education qualifications to support your learning. Most aspiring c-suite executives earn a master's degree because it updates their knowledge, equips them with new management strategies and allows them to connect with future leaders in the workspace.

Related: 18 Good Leadership Qualities for Career Success

3. Network with industry leaders

Making connections within your industry is essential to your progress along the corporate ladder. The more people you meet, the more partnerships deals you can make for your company and more opportunities may come your way. You can leverage these relationships to grow your reputation as a capable and trustworthy professional. Nurturing an extensive professional network helps you call upon different areas of expertise to aid your decision-making. This highlights your integrity and leadership potential, key characteristics employers consider before appointing you as a c-suite executive.

4. Invest in your public image

The passions and aspirations that drive you professionally and personally are the personal brand values that make you stand out in your company. In your workplace, surround yourself with like-minded colleagues who reflect your brand values. This can help you establish meaningful and motivating relationships and establish a reputation as a valuable team player and potential leader. Outside of work, make sure the online identity you portray on your website and social media is consistent with your brand values.

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