Corporate Titles: Examples And What They Mean

By Chris Kolmar - Jan. 11, 2021

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Corporate titles are the names given to employees to show their responsibilities and duties in an organization.

The meaning behind such titles and the way they’re designated can be complicated and differ significantly between organizations.

In this article, we’ll explain what job titles designate and what the different levels in the job title hierarchy mean. You’ll also learn about the variations that exist between different countries and types of organizations.

What a Job Title Designates

Corporate titles, also called job titles, designate several important details within an organization.

These include:

  • Hierarchy. Corporate titles indicate where an employee ranks in their organization’s job structure. This ranking decides who an employee reports to, as well as who reports to them.

  • Responsibilities. An employee’s job title indicates the duties and responsibilities they hold within an organization.

    These duties are influenced by a variety of factors, such as:

    1. Industry. In a technology company, executive leadership is often expected to hold some technical understanding of their products. A base level of knowledge is critical for informing managerial decisions.

      However, an executive at a company that manages restaurant brands does not need any culinary experience to succeed in their role. They simply need to understand the data and trends.

    2. Size of the organization. The duties of employees with different corporate titles tend to specialize as a company grows.

      In a start-up business with only a few stores, a chief executive officer (CEO) might manage a store’s day-to-day operations, in addition to guiding the company’s overall direction.

      In a large corporation, the tasks involved with daily operations are typically left to lower-ranked managers.

    3. Company culture. Different companies design their corporate structure to reflect their values and philosophies.

      For example, Valve Corporation claims to use a flat organizational structure to reduce bureaucracy and empower employees with the freedom to take risks.

      Senior corporate titles exist, but their owners lack the authority to command any employees directly. Instead, they only suggest policies and guidelines to put in place.

  • Legal accountability. Depending on the country, there may be different laws that certain corporate titles must follow.

    For example, if a CEO of a publicly-traded business in the United States wishes to sell stock, the trade must be recorded in that company’s form 4 and disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

    This is a federally mandated rule and is true whether a company is based in Connecticut or New Jersey.

    A much lower-ranked employee would not have to follow such rules.

Levels in the Corporate Title Hierarchy

The corporate title hierarchy can be extremely confusing and complex, as nearly every organization differs in the job titles they designate to employees.

Companies create different titles for a variety of purposes, such as to:

  • Display corporate values

  • Define responsibilities

  • Rank employees in relation to each other

Additionally, an organization may have multiple positions with completely different responsibilities that are assigned the same job title.

That being said, there are a few corporate titles that almost every publicly-traded company uses:

  1. Chairman of the Board of Directors

  2. Vice Chairman of the Board

  3. Board of Directors (members)

The purpose of these positions is to protect the interests of a company’s shareholders and other relevant stakeholders’ interests. They hold the ultimate ability to guide all aspects of a company’s affairs.

This is usually done indirectly by hiring a CEO and dictating the direction in which they take the business.

When it comes to the internal operations of a company, the traditional hierarchy is typically as follows:

  1. Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

  2. Other C-level titles, such as:

    • Chief Operating Officer (COO)

    • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

    • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)

  3. President

  4. Executive Vice President

  5. Senior Vice President

  6. Vice President

  7. Assistant Vice President

  8. Associate Vice President

  9. Senior Director

  10. Assistant Director

  11. Manager

  12. Middle Manager

  13. All other employees, such as:

Companies don’t usually follow this exact sequence.

For example, an executive assistant may report directly to the executive vice president, despite only having an employee’s job title.

Variations in the Corporate Title Hierarchy

The country in which a company is based has the greatest effect on its corporate title hierarchy.

Consider the differing norms in the following major countries:

  • The United States. The states typically dictate laws governing corporate structure.

    For example, 24 different states follow The Model Business Corporation Act (MBCA), which mandates that every publicly-traded company possesses a board of directors.

    This includes states such as Florida, Georgia, and Washington.

    Most states that don’t follow MBCA have laws that mandate similar offices.

    Delaware, the state in which most companies are established, dictates that every company that issues stock certificates uses the job titles of president, secretary, and treasurer.

    Corporations based in Texas must have at least one director.

    In some American companies, the CEO is given the title “president.” Chief officer titles such as the CFO, COO, and CTO may also be simply called “vice presidents.”

  • The United Kingdom. British companies typically use the title of “managing director” in place of “chief executive officer.”

    The United Kingdom’s Companies Act doesn’t define any of their particular duties in the same way that many American laws mandate those of CEOs.

    However, the duties of the two roles are generally understood to be the same.

  • South Korea and Japan. Although variations in the composition and duties of corporate titles do exist in Japan and South Korea, they’re much less common than in the United States.

    Almost every large company in the two countries is led by the same key roles. The following corporate titles are given in their rough English gloss first, followed by Japanese Kanji and Korean:

    1. Chairman, Kaichō 会長, Hwejang 회장. Usually the company’s founder or a semi-retired president.

      They serve the same role as the entire board of directors, which is uncommon in South Korean and Japanese companies.

    2. Vice Chairman, Fuku-kaichō 副会長, Bu-hwejang 부회장. The Vice Chairman is essentially the CEO of the company.

      They’re appointed by the Chairman and manage the overall operations of the organization.

    3. President, Shachō 社長, Sajang 사장. Similar to a COO, the President manages a particular business division and sets comprehensive goals for growth.

Other corporate title variations may be due to a company’s industry. A few major sector-specific positions include:

  • Chief Audit Executive (CAE). The CAE leads a company’s internal audit department. They’re typically found in financial services companies to ensure that their policies and procedures are compliant with the law.

  • Chief Procurement Officer (CPO). CPOs are in charge of managing the purchase of equipment and materials, as well as contracting necessary services.

    The job title is used in industries and companies that deal with a large enough volume of purchases to justify a specialized executive procurement role.

  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO). The duties of CTOs differ significantly between technical and non-technical companies. They may be tasked with leading research and development within a company or merely maintaining its IT infrastructure.

    Even within a certain type of company, the role of CTO can vary between specific organizations.

    At one tech company, the CTO might be entirely client-facing and not need a technical background at all.

    At another, they may be tasked with designing a new database and be required to use in-depth SQL.

Additionally, some senior corporate titles have only recently emerged:

  • Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). CDOs are in charge of identifying and addressing any potential barriers to a company’s diverse workforce.

    The proportion of Fortune 500 companies who use the corporate title has nearly tripled since 2005.

  • Chief Data Officer (CDO). Chief data officers are responsible for a variety of functions relating to data, such as a company’s data quality and data management.

    The title was first used by Capital One in 2002. Since then, the growing prevalence of big data, as well as algorithms and methods to analyze data, have created the need for a specialized role.

    The data analytics provided by CDOs help to inform crucial business decisions relating to everything from marketing to quality assurance.

  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). This role’s duties have considerably widened in the last few years due to the increasing prevalence of social media and the rise of consumer-centric marketing.

    They also differ greatly depending on the type of company.

    A CMO at a large corporation deals with world-wide sales and all the challenges that come along.

    At a smaller company, the CMO may only be in charge of the organization’s social media strategy.

Variations in the Corporate Title Hierarchy

As seen with CMOs and CDOs, the duties associated with many different corporate titles are changing greatly over time.

This is due to a variety of factors, from the digitization of the workplace to larger overall trends in consumer culture.

As a result, many analysts predict that we’ll see further expansion in C-level roles over time.

More than ever, companies are experimenting with the traditional corporate structure to fit their culture and other needs.

From small changes such as additional job titles to complete overhauls in the form of flat corporate hierarchies, it’ll be interesting to see which new trends stick or disappear in the coming years.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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