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I have an economic theory that when times are tough and a company needs to ‘batten down the hatches’ the best CEOs come from the CFO or ‘bean counter’ ranks. Similarly, when times are good and a CSP is in growth mode you can’t do better than having a CIO or CMO in the top job. Subsequently, and following the same logic, when you are starting up or going into a new technology stage you can’t do better than an IT or network engineer from the CTO ranks leading the charge.

Ah, if only the real world was so idealistic and, well, simple. Life at the top may reap its financial rewards but the pressure to produce continuously good results is being matched by the pressure of keeping other C-levels out of your space.

Back in 2008, Starbucks broke with tradition and made the role of COO defunct. Often seen purely as stepping stone to the CEO role, it was deemed to be superfluous by Starbucks and the trend has continued ever since with the number of COOs in Fortune 500 companies dwindling at a constant rate. Depending who you talk to, the role is either being absorbed by CFOs assuming more responsibility for areas that redound to the bottom line or shared by remaining C-levels.

CMOs seem to be dwindling as well, most often into the CIO role but with transformation of networks into horizontal structures, the devolution of silos and the merging of network and IT functions into ‘business enablement’ the roles of CIO and CTO are even starting to blur.

Now, depending which industry association journals you read, each favors its own members to come out on top. None more so than the CFOs who seem to be creating a new breed called the ‘Operational CFO.’

For example, let me quote from an article in American Express’ ‘Inside Edge’ titled ‘The Rise of the Operational CFO:’
“The days when a chief financial officer was primarily a numbers cruncher may be, well, numbered. In addition to finance, today’s CFO helps with information technology purchases, human resources, strategic planning, and in some cases, sales. These ‘operational CFOs’ are the renaissance men and women of the executive suite, and they’re in demand.”

It all boils down to who keeps the customers happy, because that’s where the revenue comes from; who keeps the board and shareholders happy, because they control the investments; who keeps the staff happy, because they keep the business running; and who keeps the regulators and legislators happy, because they can make life hell for everybody.

You would have to be damn good to manage all of those functions and I guess in our industry we have some stand-out examples in the C-suites that can, but in view of the dwindling C-level roles the competition may get fierce. 2011 could well see transformation extending upwards with rationalization of the C-team. That could be interesting, almost as interesting as a ‘renaissance bean counter!’