The Rise (again) in COO Appointments

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Apple has recently appointed Jeff Williams, who led the development of the Apple Watch, to the role of chief operating officer, a position that has been vacant since Tim Cook took over as chief executive in 2011. In 2015 our firm was asked by a number of clients to help them identify COO talent (internally and externally) and to research the market to see how other organisations were utilising this appointment in their operating model.

We found the COO role ranged in scope considerably, including:

– Bridging strategic planning to execution and project portfolio delivery
– Operational Excellence implementation, lean enterprise, cost reduction, productivity and performance improvement related
– A span breaker for the CEO: with Operations, IT et al assigned to the incumbent, in some cases responsibility for an extended Shared Services delivery

In some organisations the role was deployed as a ‘Chief of Staff’, not dissimilar to the role occupied by Denis McDonough for the Obama administration. A trusted individual with credibility, able to navigate the organisation, influence colleagues /stakeholders, have difficult conversations, prioritise and plan. The role can help to alleviate pressure and free up the ‘CEO’ to focus on other matters.

In 2016 we can anticipate many more strategic and organisational reviews, M&As, transformational programmes and change initiatives….how many will feature a COO appointment in their thought process?