I’m grateful that I have held different roles in companies like AmazonDell EMCDeloitteCapgemini InventMichaels Stores, and others. I enjoy working in corporations and also as a consultant. What I like most is interacting with different executives and stakeholders. In my experience, most employees and executives place the success or failure of a business on the shoulders of the CEO, while overlooking the most important role in business – Chief Operating Officer.

I work as a fractional COO on a part-time basis for several companies. One of my clients has a full-time COO; I provide focused support to the COO in several areas of the company. Working as a COO has taught me this: The role is more complicated and vital than I realized.

The COO is typically the second in command in a company and reports to the CEO. COOs manage and handle the daily business operations of the company, working closely with department heads and supervisors to support the day-to-day activity of employees. COOs typically oversee internal, daily operations.

Examples of duties include:

  1. Maintains and directs the daily operations of the business, including coordinating with human resources, legal, sales, marketing, manufacturing, accounting, IT and other departments.
  2. Meets with and reports to the CEO about the company’s daily operation, as well as about the CEO’s plans for any upcoming adjustments or developments to business operations strategy, or other company goals and objectives.
  3. Develops and implements policies for daily operations, and communicates these policy changes to department supervisors, and ensures alignment with current company policies and goals.

In most companies, COOs represent the heir apparent for the CEO. One of the most well-known former COO’s is Tim Cook, now the CEO of Apple.

I agree with comments Tim recently made. Tim stated that one of his key responsibilities as COO according to CEO Steve Jobs, was to be innovative. “When we were running operations, we tried to be innovative in operations and creative in operations, just like we were creative elsewhere,” Cook said. “We fundamentally had to be in order to build the products that we were designing.”

Cook invested the time to learn Apple’s operations and especially Apple’s global supply chain. Tim’s efforts prepared him to be CEO.

Where I see issues is at companies who hire COOs without assessing if they’re innovative and strategic thinkers, or if they have the required leadership to replace a CEO. CEOs must be able to trust their COO and vice versa. CEOs and COOs must also be fully aligned on the strategy for the company.

I believe the best COOs are those individuals who do their jobs well, and who also pushback against a CEO when they disagree on a policy or strategy. COOs must be willing to confront and lead or they shouldn’t become a CEO.