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Under the Subject line "Notice of Online Survey of Higher Ed CMOs", I got an email last week from someone who described herself as the Chief Marketing Officer of the Chronicle of Higher Education. It began like this:

Dear Mark,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has partnered with SimpsonScarborough, a higher education market research firm, to study the organization and operations of the marketing unit within higher education institutions. The purpose of this study is to better understand marketing budgeting, staffing structure, responsibilities and priorities at higher education institutions.

And the next day, the Director of Project Strategy at SimpsonScarborough sent me a note, under the Subject line "Online Survey of Higher Ed CMOs",  that started this way:

Dear Mark:
The Chronicle of Higher Education and SimpsonScarborough, a higher education marketing company, would like to invite you to participate in an important online survey of higher ed chief marketing officers. The purpose of this study is to better understand the role and influence of marketing in higher education including budgeting, staffing structure, responsibilities and priorities at higher education institutions.

These messages — and the follow-up nudges — puzzled me for two reasons.  First, I was not aware that "higher education institutions" routinely had "chief marketing officers". At Penn, the Wharton School apparently has a CMO, but as far as I can tell, neither the university as a whole nor other schools do.  So maybe colleges and universities really should have CMOs, but my second reason for being puzzled by these messages is that I'm pretty sure that I'm not one. I mean, I do my best to follow Taoist management practices, but I like to keep track of which responsibilities I'm fulfilling by creative non-action.

Maybe the Chronicle just sent these message to all its subscribers, in the hopes that those who happen to be CMOs will respond.

Anyhow, all of this left me with a meta-question: for how many (and which) values of X is CXO defined? In addition to the most common ones (CEO, CFO, CIO, COO, etc.), a quick web search turned up 5 interpretations of CAO and 3 of CBO — without even getting into the jokes like Chief Beer Officer:

A Chief Academic Officer
A Chief Accounting Officer
A Chief Administrative Officer
A Chief Analytics Officer
A Chief Acquisition Officer
B Chief Brand Officer
B Chief Brokerage Officer
B Chief Business Officer

What are your favorites?


  1. Dick Margulis said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

    Not a direct answer, but I often see the formulation CxO, with a lowercase x, in marketing materials, as in "We're targeting CxOs with this campaign." It's also sometimes expressed as "C-level executives." So the generalization meme is out there, for what it's worth. (I never saw CMO before, though.)

  2. Michael Carasik said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

    Michael Fox, professor of Bible at the U. of Wisconsin, used to have students in his classes serve as CEO — "Chief Exegetical Officer."

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

    Northwestern apparently hired its first university-wide CMO last year, less than 12 months after Kellogg had done so, so if Wharton:Penn::Kellogg:Northwestern, stay tuned . . .

    My own alma mater has a much more complex administrative org chart than I expect it did back when I was an undergrad (although the university didn't have a website back then and I doubt I ever saw a formal hard-copy org chart), but out of >50 boxes on the chart only three currently have official titles of CxO form (with Investment, Communications, and Diversity as the values for x).

  4. Quicksand said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

    I perused the "CAO" list and at first I thought, "What, no Chief Awesomeness Officer? Come on Silicon Valley, you are letting us down!"

    But then I hit Google. Alas, there are several.

  5. Piyush said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 2:59 pm

    In India, a CMO is a "Chief Medical Officer", essentially a doctor in charge of administering the public health infrastructure in an administrative district.

  6. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 3:19 pm

    Some U.S. hospitals have a "Chief Medical Officer." The downside of using such a title is that it underscores that the hospital's President/CEO, even if a physician by training, is *not* the de facto Chief Medical Officer but rather needs to delegate being in charge of medical stuff to someone else because he has so much non-medical stuff to worry about. That may be just a recognition of reality, but a good Chief Marketing Officer might worry about the implicit message to patients.

    For the same reason it is imho bad marketing for a university to have someone whose formal title is "chief academic officer," because it underscores the (probably empirically true) notion that that's not what the university's president is actually focused on most of the time. So a title like "provost" that sounds impressive and medieval but is also usefully vague and opaque as to actual function may be better suited for the de facto CAcadO position.

  7. Toma said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

    We have a CBO — Chief Bullshit Officer

  8. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    J. W. Brewer: I thought the same thing about CBO. If you need a Chief Business Officer to actually run the business, what the heck is the CEO doing?

  9. Simon Spero said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 4:22 pm

    Don't forget all the University CIOs (Chief Investment Officers) who lost a fortune on CDOs (Collateralized Debt Obligations).

    Unless it was Chief Information Officers who lost a fortune on Chief Diversity Officers.

    Of course, on the admin side, if you don't have a Chief, you can rarely rise higher than Vice.You don't get your chance at any of those fancy named chairs (they're all called Aeron).

    In some schools, it seems like everybody gets somebody else's name to stick in their job title, though I guess being the Gillette Sensitive Disposable Assistant Professor of English may have it's downsides.

    So I guess the real question is, are there any named chairs in Onomastics?

  10. DWalker said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

    I like how the Chronicle told you that it was "partnering with" SimpsonScarborough (which means paying them). Then SimpsonScarborough sends you an e-mail saying they want you to fill out an online survey.

    I hope that S.S. is being paid for doing more than just sending you a link to a survey they designed… If not, then the Chronicle could have designed a survey and cut out S.S.

  11. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 23, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

    Gregory Kusnick: turning the rationale around, it may be a plus for universities and other non-profits to have someone with the title "Chief Business Officer" (as some do), because it conveys that the institution has put someone competent in charge of the regrettable necessity of making sure the humdrum dollars-and-cents side of things is being taken care of while the actual CEO can stay focused on the higher-toned and supposedly non-money-grubbing central mission of the institution. But yeah, in a for-profit business it is off-putting in the way you point to. Google apparently has or had one – but maybe that was a signal they they want us to think their core mission is Doing Cool Stuff (or Not Being Evil), with the business angle just being a sideline?

  12. Ginger Yellow said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 4:37 am

    nyhow, all of this left me with a meta-question: for how many (and which) values of X is CXO defined? :

    Is this just in the form Chief X Officer? Because as hinted at above, finance provides a bunch of them in the format Collateralised X Obligation. At a minimum:CBO, CDO, CLO and CSO. There's also a CPDO, but that doesn't quite fit the template as the first word is Constant.

    Anyway, on the original template: Chief Technology Officer and Chief Risk Officer are relatively common, and again in finance Chief Credit Officer. I'm struggling to come up with anything not made up for Y and Z though.

  13. John Swindle said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 4:41 am

    The English-language version of Wikipedia currently has a disambiguation page for "Chief officer" and a discussion with lots of examples for "Corporate title".

  14. SamC said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 9:12 am

    This wouldn't show up in your search since it doesn't end in "Officer," but the founder of Build A Bear Workshop's official title used to be "Chief Executive Bear." According to their corporate website, they scrapped the cutesy title in 2013 though (and who could blame them):

  15. JerryK said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 10:15 am

    I used to write software embedded in network equipment. In the trade that software is called microcode, ucode, or where the character set allows µcode. At one job they put a sign outside my office the read "CµO".

  16. Joe said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    Silicon Valley is rife with these CxOs: Chief Technology Offcier, Chief Data Officer, Chief Experience Officer (sometimes known as Chief UX Officer), Chief Customer Officer. There are some who aren't Officers per se – Chief Scientist, Chief Architect (or Chief Software Architect), Chief Data Scientist – but considered C-level positions.

    It seems that you take some Silicon Valley buzzword (cloud, disruption, eg) and you can now form a c-level position for that.

  17. KevinM said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    And, of course, in the Navy you can be a Chief Petty Officer (CPO). IN the US Navy, that entitles you to a nifty woolen shirt. Now that I think of it, CPO might be a good general descriptor for many CXO position holders.

  18. Jon Weinberg said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    The good people at indicate that the answer is at least twenty: they give CxO titles for every letter except G, J, U, X, Y, and Z. (Also, Penn does have an officer who is the chief of the University's marketing, although without that title: it's Vice President Stephen MacCarthy, head of the Office of University Communications.)

  19. tsts said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

    Chief Algorithm(s) Officer is also a common title in Silicon Valley. Amazon had Udi Manber in this position for a few years, but other companies also have it.

  20. Brian Clark said,

    July 24, 2014 @ 5:37 pm

    Chief Marketing Officers in higher ed are on the rise. U. Washington has one, for instance, as does USF and Northwestern. For better or worse, this appears to be part of the longterm trend that is corporatizing higher ed in the U.S. FYI, I am a mere executive director in a higher ed mar comm shop…

  21. Chips said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 10:10 am

    It seems C-level positions will be with us for thousands of years to come, at least according to Star Wars. They give us CP3O. What x=P3 is, I haven't a clue.

  22. Jon Weinberg said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 10:56 am

    @Chips: Several nonprofit organizations I see on the web have a Chief Program and Policy Officer; a company called PEER 1 Hosting has a Chief People and Performance Officer; a name-not-disclosed prep school has a Chief Program and People Officer; and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies has a Chief Program and Planning Officer. So, less excitingly, we've achieved CP2O.

  23. ohwilleke said,

    July 25, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

    My advise to my kids and anyone else who asks is that any university that advertises in radio or mass media is probably one you should aspire not to attend. The best universities are like restaurants without prices on the menus. If you have to ask, you probably don't belong there.

  24. Rod Johnson said,

    July 26, 2014 @ 8:54 am

    I think it needs to be pointed out, though it shouldn't need to be, that C3PO actually existed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

  25. scott said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

    Recently saw a title of Chief Legal Officer

  26. Chips said,

    July 28, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

    @Rod Johnson. I stand corrected. I am a myall for science fiction cinema.

  27. Xmun said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 3:52 pm

    There are sometimes titles in the form CxxO and for all I know maybe CxxxO or titles with even longer middle elements. In Malta there is an official called the Chief Government Medical Officer, or CGMO for short. My father held that office for a time in the 1940s, and his name is carved along with those of his predecessors and successors on a marble plaque in the foyer of the Ministry of Health building.

  28. Ted said,

    July 30, 2014 @ 10:13 am

    For whatever it's worth, and based on nothing more than free association, here are the values I would generally associate with each ofthe permutations of C*O (in decreasing order of probability, if more than one) unless the context requires a different interpretation:
    CAO: Chief accounting officer
    CBO: Congressional Budget Office or collateralized bond obligation
    CCO: Chief credit officer or chief compliance officer
    CDO: Collateralized debt obligation
    CEO: Chief executive officer
    CFO: Chief financial officer
    CGO: null
    CHO: null
    CIO: Chief information officer
    CJO: null
    CKO: null
    CLO: Collateralized loan obligation or chief legal officer
    CMO: Collateralized mortgage obligation or chief marketing officer
    CNO: Chief of Naval Operations
    COO: Chief operating officer
    CPO: null
    CQO: null
    CRO: Client relationship officer
    CSO: possibly Chicago Symphony Orchestra?
    CTO: Chief technology officer
    CUO: null
    CWO: null
    CXO: null
    CYO: Catholic Youth Organization
    CZO: null

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