What is the Role of a Chief Operating Officer?

The chief operating officer (COO) is one of the highest-ranking executive positions in an organization, and is part of senior management. The COO is usually second in command of the company, and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the business. This position typically reports directly to the CEO and is considered second in the chain of command. In some companies, the COO may be referred to by other terms, such as executive vice president of operations or chief operating officer.

The chief operating officer plays a vital role as a liaison between the management department and the employees working in the company. The COO is responsible for overseeing business procedures such as sales, customer service, and product distribution. The CEO generally determines what tasks the COO handles, and the scope of supervision of the chief operating officer may vary depending on the employer. The position of chief operating officer is almost ubiquitous in operations-intensive companies, such as the airline and automotive industries, as well as organizations operating in hypercompetitive and dynamic markets, such as high-tech companies.

Understanding what makes a chief operating officer successful is vital because the effectiveness of operations managers (or the classification of operations executives by whatever name they are called) is fundamental to the fortunes of many companies and could be so for many more. The chief operating officer is not higher than a CEO; however, they are both essential roles in an organization. The CEO directs and sets the organization's policies, vision, and objectives, while the COO deals with marketing, sales, production, and personnel issues. The COO typically reports directly to the CEO and is considered second in command. The functions of a chief operating officer vary widely depending on the size of a company. For example, you can hire an operations manager to oversee business procedures as you begin to expand your sales, customer service, and product distribution departments.

Your company may eventually eliminate this position as the expansion effort ends. Research in Motion's corporate structure had more than one chief operating officer, including Jim Rowan as chief operating officer for global operations and Thorsten Heins as director of product and sales operations. Richard Fuld, the president and CEO of Lehman Brothers, had a number two succession under him, usually titled as president and chief operating officer. The evolution of office technology and the flexibility of organizational structures have made it easier for senior executives to manage the day-to-day operations of a company. Operations managers are highly visible and powerful figures within an organization.