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Career Outlook: Chief Operating Officer

The growing size and complexity of organizations through the 20th century made it increasingly necessary for the company and corporate owners to hire personnel to manage daily operations. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) position emerged, and today, COOs are charged with making key decisions to ensure the company runs efficiently and creates value for the company’s owners and shareholders. In most organizations, the COO plays a critical role in overseeing company operations, which can include the management of multiple divisions in a cross-functional role in order to help realize the Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) vision for the company. The COO can oversee the areas of supply chain management, marketing, and sales, finance and accounting, as well as other organizational functions. In niche companies, the COO may have a more specialized organizational function depending on the CEO’s intentions, such as managing one or two key operational objectives like cost reduction in the supply chain or sales revenue increases. Overall, key roles of the COO are typically appropriate to the COO’s strengths or a particular area of expertise.

Skills & Benefits

Generally, organizations hire COO’s with a master’s degree in business or another discipline related to the industry. In addition, companies seek individuals that have had a number of successful experiences leading within an organization, including strategic planning and design, implementing strategy, and, most importantly, achieving measurable results. Strong leadership skills, along with a penchant for communication and interpersonal relations are key to success in this role. The job often requires dedicating long hours, with many COOs working well over forty hours each week. Although hours may be extensive, COOs can earn a significant salary, with a median income of approximately $102,690, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Executives typically receive premium healthcare benefits, and certain organizations may offer lucrative financial incentives, like stock options, cash allowances, company transportation, and substantial performance-related bonuses as well.

5 Successful Chief Operating Officers

Sheryl Sandberg – Facebook

As the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most widely recognized COOs today, some of which is due to her popular book, Lean In, which highlights issues of women in top executive positions. One of the keys to Sandberg’s success as a COO is her ability to connect with people and build relationships. Previously working as Vice President at Google, Sandberg saw Facebook as an opportunity to bind her vision to a company that was more directly about relationships and human interaction. Sandberg actively sought the challenge of managing and cultivating such relationships, and her communication strengths clearly come into play in her role at Facebook, exemplifying how the COO position can effectively add value to an organization. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defers to Sandberg for handling most of the daily operations and personnel interactions that occur within and outside of the company.

Jeff Williams – Apple

Apple’s COO, Jeff Williams, is an engineer and previous employee of IBM. Bringing his expertise to Apple in 2004, Williams played a critical part in Apple’s dominance of the mobile market and the huge success of the iPhone, particularly the iPhone 6. In his primary role of overseeing supply chain operations, Williams has been indispensable in establishing the company as the top competitor on quality in the mobile and computer industry. Through Williams’s leadership and efficient operational management, Apple has met a seemingly exponential increase in demand for their products over the last decade without sacrificing quality. Williams, who has become the main catalyst for the world-class integrity of Apple’s brand image, is a prime example of the huge impact a COO can have on a top company.

Robert Santos — MetroStar Systems

As one of the founders of MetroStar Systems, Robert Santos created the role of COO to work alongside co-founder and CEO Ali Reza Manouchehri. The combination of Santos’s watchful oversight of MetroStar’s day-to-day operations and his attentive regard for the company’s bottom-line performance was key to the organization’s consistent long-term success. Santos fully subscribed to the company’s mission of making a “positive impact on both the employees and the client.” His support of positively impacting clients and understanding how he, as the second in command, could best help MetroStar to realize this vision highlights why Santos has been so effective in this high-level leadership capacity.

Kevin Warren – Minnesota Vikings

Kevin Warren is considered the highest-ranking executive of the Minnesota Vikings organization. With a background in law, Warren spent over twenty years working for the NFL in various roles, and prior to being appointed to his current role of COO of the Vikings in 2015, Warren held a position as vice president of the St. Louis Rams. Warren’s leadership skills, versatility, and legal expertise facilitated the recent construction and opening of the Vikings’ new football stadium in 2016. Since being appointed as the Vikings’ COO, Warren has been dedicated to a strategy of cultivating diverse talent for entry-level, as well as mid- and upper-management positions in the NFL.

William Peacock — Cleveland Clinic

William Peacock was named the COO of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic in 2009. His background demonstrates a long history of leadership roles, including serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy. Peacock has successfully managed all major aspects of Cleveland Clinic’s operations since being appointed as COO. In this highly versatile and expansive leadership role, he oversees the construction of new facilities, manages supply chain operations, heads sustainability efforts, and manages patient support and international operations. Peacock has facilitated several key projects for Cleveland Clinic that have led to the organization’s continued success in growth and expansion.

In modern business, COOs are typically the most adaptable and strategic leaders within an organization. These individuals are looked at for effectively leading organizations to success in both commercial and non-profit sectors where operations are becoming increasingly complex. Aligning goals and objectives across departments and divisions is critical in this changing environment, and the COO is at the center of adapting to this change.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration program helps create strong leaders well-versed in business management practices. Students can customize their MBA by choosing a concentration in construction management, finance, organizational leadership, project management, supply chain management & logistics, or energy management.

Recommended Readings
Understanding the Just-In-Time Inventory System
Developing Trends in Supply Chain Management


The DNA of the COO, EY

Capturing The Value That A Chief Operating Officer Can Bring, Ivey Business Journal

Apple Names Jeff Williams First COO Since Tim Cook, The Wall Street Journal

A Woman’s Place, The New Yorker

18 Lessons Learned from 18 Years of MetroStar Systems, MetroStar Systems

Family Dollar Names Barry W. Sullivan Executive Vice President - Store Operations, Business Wire

Jeff Williams, Apple

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