Know Your C-Suite: The Chief Administrative Officer

August 24, 2017

If it’s the CEO’s ear you want, there may not be a better-positioned executive than the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Often reporting directly to the CEO as a buffer between other senior-level management, the CAO manages and integrates anything from human resources and legal affairs to communications and government affairs. Most importantly for EDOs and IPAs, many also head the corporate facilities and real estate functions.

A CAO can be considered one of the most trusted staffers of the C-suite. In addition to their everyday tasks of checking company standards and policies, they are also leading project managers of special large-scale company endeavors. This could be anything from developing a two-year administrative budget to reviewing a company’s global footprint.

This third report by DCI on “executive personas” (see COO and CPO) reviews this critical C-suite role, one that is often overlooked in our industry and holds great potential as an upper-echelon gate-keeper.

Pain Points

Underperforming departments within a company are a sign that the CAO will need to get involved and deliver results fast. While many of these struggles are internal and may be difficult to spot externally, some signals to look for could be a lagging new-market launch, suffering margins in a particular company division, and high employee turnover. Mining investor conference calls of public companies could be an effective way to uncover these issues.

Common responsibilities of a CAO often include:

  • Briefing the CEO weekly with company-wide status reports from various departments;
  • Project management to keep teams on budget and on time;
  • Work with the COO to create company success metrics;
  • Analyzing department data against set goals;
  • Strategizing on human resources.

The CAO position involves a mix of analytics, process and strategy, making them a C-suite influencer with knowledge of the inner-workings of the company. Perhaps they don’t have the final say on a site selection decision, but their involvement is almost a given.

Reporting to the CAO

While the chief of each functional department will usually report directly to the CEO and board of directors, the CAO will often work with heads of divisions that may not have a C-suite presence (sales, marketing, human resources, etc.) to analyze and develop a status debrief. In this scenario, the VP level-staffers or directors will report to the CAO.

Which Companies Have a CAO?

According to research conducted by Aon Hewitt, only about 20% of businesses staff a CAO across all industries. Those in retail and financial services are most likely to carry one, at 28% and 25% of firms, respectively. Insurance companies, in particular, top the charts at more than 35%. The rate is closer to 18% for manufacturing firms.

More Resources

For more resources on the CAO position, we recommend the following reading: Study’s Chief Administrative Officer: Job Duties, Requirements & Career Information; Aon Hewitt’s Industries Most Likely to Have Chief Operating Officers or Chief Administrative Officers. We also reviewed the job descriptions of numerous CAOs for real-life examples of their responsibilities.

Danny Wohlner

Written by Danny Wohlner

Daniel Wohlner is an Account Coordinator in the Economic Development practice. He specializes in digital marketing and lead generation for various economic development organizations and investment promotion agencies.

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