Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer

02-mad-men-2.w1200.h630When Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, and his chief operating officer, Ray Lane, parted ways in 2000, the event inspired the kind of breathless reporting usually reserved for celebrity divorces. Forbes.com reporter David Einstein wondered in print, “Did Lane quit or was he fired?” and wished he had “a clue as to why Ellison’s second banana for the past eight years suddenly was cleaning out his office.” Soon afterwards, CNET News.com weighed in with this: “The story of Lane’s plight at one of the most powerful companies in technology is one of hubris, greed, betrayal and personal epiphany…” Readers were left with two puzzles to sort out. First: why Lane was leaving his position, given what seemed to be an unbroken string of admirable achievements. And second: why the event was wrapped in such drama. Executives change posts all the time, yet the story, with its hints of palace intrigue and titanic clashes, was inherently captivating. For us, it was another example suggesting that the role of the COO is, well, different. Our research since then has put a finer point on the difference. Through in-depth conversations with dozens of executives who have held the position and with CEOs who have worked with COOs, we’ve gained insight into a subject that has been largely neglected by organizational scholars. Our discoveries shed light not only on the dramatic executive breakups that intermittently make headlines but also on the successful experiences of many unsung COOs. In this article, we share the success and failure factors we’ve identified, as well as our analysis of such related questions as: Are there circumstances in which a number two role is particularly useful? Are there situations when it will inevitably produce tension and discord? Understanding what makes for a successful chief operating officer is vital because the effectiveness of COOs (or ranking operations executives by whatever name they are called) is critical to the fortunes of many companies—and could be to many more. As we will suggest, the second-in-command executive is a role that by rights should become increasingly prevalent. It is prevented from doing so, perhaps, because it is so misunderstood. A Unique Point of Reference When you start to examine COOs as a class, one thing immediately becomes clear: There are almost no constants. People with very different backgrounds ascend to the role and succeed in it. This variability makes the job difficult to study; it’s hard to know whether you are making proper inferences when comparing one COO with another.

Source: Second in Command: The Misunderstood Role of the Chief Operating Officer

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About Stephen G. Barr, Group Publisher

Author, Syndicated Columnist, Editor In-Chief and Group Publisher at SGB Media Group, a social media marketing firm specializing in digital media content production, publishing, affiliate marketing, public relations and advertising. Over 25 years experience in retailing, advertising, website & online forum development, niche social networking, affiliate marketing, search optimization, branding and identity, site location, non-profit fund raising. Event planning, promotion, production and MC/Host at public events. Author, Editor & Publisher of 35 syndicated, digital publications utilizing multiple digital distribution channels in conjunction with launching and administrating national advertising campaigns for major Fortune 500 advertisers in partnership with Google, Ning, Facebook, Myspace, Yahoo, DoubleClick, LinkShare, PepperJam and other industry leading third party affiliate networks. Product development team member from conception to launch on many websites, tangible goods and organizational structure for start ups. Specialties: Public relations, retailing, advertising, website & online forum development, niche social networking, blogging, email campaigns, affiliate/performance marketing, search optimization, branding and identity, site location, event production & promotion, non-profit fund raising and tasteful, responsible adult content publishing. An internationally recognized and read social media columnist & pundit on The Examiner, Associate Content, Vator.tv, X-Biz.net and Technorati and his own affiliated sites.
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