The chief executive officer, or CEO, is the lead manager of an organization. The duties of a CEO will vary dramatically based on the size and purposes of the organization, but CEOs almost always have strategic planning duties and serve as the public face of the organization. A chief operations officer, or COO, is generally the second in command of an organization, and in most cases is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of a business.
CEO Education and Pay
Practically all CEOs have at least an undergraduate degree, typically in finance, business or law; and in recent years, many have earned a master's in business administration or another graduate degree. CEOs make a comfortable living, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that they earned a median salary of $165,910 in 2011.
The primary job of the CEO is to formulate and execute a strategic plan for the organization. CEOs of publicly-held companies will work with the board of directors to develop the strategic plan for the organization. In a private setting, the CEO typically consults with ownership and senior management in charting the course for the future of the organization. CEOs are usually the public face of an organization. They are expected to lead meetings with the public and analysts and to attend important company and social functions.
COO Education and Pay
COOs tend to have educational backgrounds similar to CEOs. Most have undergraduate degrees in business-related fields, and many have MBAs. COOs are often hired as promising CEO candidates, and are groomed to assume the responsibility over a sometimes-substantial period of time. According to the BLS, COOs took home a median salary of $94,400 in 2010.
The role and duties vary greatly based on the needs of the CEO and the organization. In very large companies, the role of a COO is typically more like a junior CEO, and she is privy to most, if not all, of the top-level strategy and meetings. In smaller organizations, the COO tends to be more directly focused on operations and managing the various departments of the organization, and is less involved in strategic decision making.
2016 Salary Information for Top Executives
Top executives earned a median annual salary of $109,140 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, top executives earned a 25th percentile salary of $70,800, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $165,620, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 2,572,000 people were employed in the U.S. as top executives.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Top Executives
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics -- Chief Executives
- Stanford Business Books -- Riding Shotgun: The Role of the COO
- Oliver Wyman: Designing CEO and COO Roles -- Options for Structuring a Critical Relationship
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Top Executives
- Career Trend: Top Executives
Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.