What Does a Chief Operating Officer Do and Who Reports to Them?

The chief operating officer (COO) is a senior executive responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of a company. They are second in command of a company, just below the CEO, and are considered part of the senior management team. As such, everyone except the CEO reports to the COO eventually, as ideas and plans move up the scale. A COO needs to be an experienced and efficient leader, with excellent people skills, business acumen, and an exemplary work ethic.

This is why 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. The COO is responsible for maintaining control of various business operations. This includes managing the day-to-day operation of the company and its office building, and being accountable to the highest-ranking executive, usually the CEO. They are also responsible for ensuring that ideas and plans move up the scale from lower-level employees to higher-level executives.

The COO role is a dual role that combines the functions of CEO and manager. This means that they need to have a good understanding of what makes a chief operating officer successful, as their effectiveness is fundamental to the fortunes of many companies. For example, Richard Fuld, the president and CEO of Lehman Brothers, had a number two succession under his command, usually titled as president and chief operating officer. Similarly, Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, had Ray Lane as his chief operating officer before they separated in 2000.

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. In addition to their duties as COOs, these executives also had other roles within their respective companies. For example, Jim Rowan was also responsible for managing people development directors and knowledge directors. Similarly, Thorsten Heins was responsible for managing program managers. Overall, a chief operating officer is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of a company. Everyone except the CEO reports to them eventually.