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Riding Shotgun

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Riding Shotgun

The Role of the COO

Stanford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Although chief operating officers mostly fly under the public radar, don’t underestimate their corporate importance.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


If you’re searching for the textbook example of a COO, look no farther than Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s loyal and trustworthy right-hand man. Sharing the Lone Ranger’s vision of delivering frontier justice, Tonto checked his ego at the door. Instead of trying to figure out how to unseat his CEO – the Lone Ranger – Tonto faithfully and skillfully performed his duties. They complemented each other beautifully and made a great team. COOs in today’s corporate environment face complex and difficult challenges, but the essence of the job hasn’t changed much since Tonto hitched up a saddle. Intelligence, reliability and integrity are just a few of the essential qualities COOs must possess, according to Nathan Bennett and Stephen A. Miles. The authors use solid information from extensive interviews with leading corporate executives to carefully dissect the COO’s role and explain strategies for maximizing this position in your company. In fact, getAbstract believes the only thing missing from this highly recommended book is Tonto’s input. The lesson here: the Lone Ranger isn’t so “lone,” and neither is the CEO.


Meeting the COO Challenge

The role of the chief operating officer (COO) is arguably the most complex, challenging position in any company. Although a COO’s number-one priority is providing support to the CEO, he or she must also oversee business operations, develop cohesive and trusting relationships with a wide range of individuals, and make difficult financial and personnel decisions. Moreover, a COO must be confident enough to manage multiple, large concerns, yet humble enough to take a back seat while the CEO receives all the plaudits and publicity.

Depending on the company, COOs have varying degrees of influence and responsibility. Some organizations struggle with defining the COO’s role, which can have a tremendous impact upon the company’s efficiency. Others corporations may be thinking about creating a COO position, but don’t know how to structure it or how to identify the qualities to look for in COO candidates.

The bottom line, however, is that once a company has a COO, that officer and the CEO must establish a viable, trusting and honest partnership. The CEO cannot view the COO as a threat to his or her power base. Conversely, the COO must demonstrate...

About the Authors

Nathan Bennett is senior associate dean and professor of management at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Stephen A. Miles is a partner in a major executive search firm, where he handles international leadership positions.

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