Is the Chief Strategy Officer dead?

25 November 2021 4 min. read
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Not so long ago, the question was being asked on the future of strategy consulting, coming under pressure from in-house strategy teams. Now is it time to ask, is the Chief Strategy Officer dead?

Since the advent of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, there has been much speculation about the impact on jobs from emerging technologies – but one cohort of professionals who probably didn’t expect to be looking over their shoulders so soon are the only recently former hot-shots of the C-suite; the Chief Strategy Officer. Now though, the CEOs of this world consider their Chief Technology Officer off-siders far more crucial to business.

This is according to a global survey from earlier this year by the IBM Institute for Business Value in conjunction with Oxford Economics conducted among 3,000 CEOs from 26 industries and nearly 50 countries worldwide. When quizzed on which other members of the executive would play the most crucial role for the organisation over the next two to three years, Chief Technology Officers and Chief Information Officers were identified at a rate of 39 percent.

CEO views on the most crucial roles of the C-suite

While the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer roles remain as indispensable foundations – each garnering responses of around 57 percent, the tech chiefs now tower above the Chief Marketing Officer as third in line, while Chief Strategy Officers and Chief Innovation Officers have practically vanished from the equation, the latter cited by only 4 percent.

Their fall from grace

It’s the Chief Strategy Officer gig though which has experienced the largest fall from grace. Back in 2013, when IBM first included the question on the importance of C-suite functions, Chief Strategy Officers were rated as crucial by 67 percent of respondents, in fact placing them ahead of the Chief Operations Officer in CEO minds.

In the intervening years, that figure has dropped to just 6 percent, even in the face of expected business pivots brought about by Covid-19. The Chief Innovation Officer had also attracted 47 percent of the vote just eight years ago.

It’s a similar if less dramatic story when it comes to Chief Marketing Officers. Described as a rising contender in 2013, the CMO has slipped from being considered a crucial cog by a massive two thirds of CEOs to now less than a fifth – under half the strike-rate of Chief Technology Officers. Currently ranked fifth-most important at 16 percent, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see human resources execs also gain ground in coming surveys, considering the worsening talent crunch.

Most important emergent technologies, according to CEOs


Meanwhile, IBM describes the ascent of the CTO as a dramatic departure on what the researchers had seen in previous studies, reinforcing the degree to which CEO’s view technology as key. Here, the report authors also helpfully note the potential implications of the broad shift in sentiment for those ambitious strategy officers and professionals in other functions falling from favour hoping to break into the top ranks – and “maybe position themselves to be the next CEO”.

The report from the IBM Institute for Business Value – which sits within the firm’s recently rebranded IBM Consulting division – further hints that the CEOs may well be right to place a high value on tech expertise close by their side. When ranking the importance of emergent technologies over the next two to three years, the internet of things (79 percent) and cloud computing (74 percent) came well out on top, followed by artificial intelligence at 52 percent.

While the researchers don’t consider these responses misguided (a previous IBM study found that during the pandemic the more tech-savvy organisations outperformed their counterparts on growth by an average of 6 percentage points), they do point out the lack of opportunity seen in quantum computing among top bosses, drawing a response from barely one in ten.

IBM, a world-leader in the technology, suggests this may have some parallel to the advent of artificial intelligence a decade ago.

“There is an echo here with how artificial intelligence was viewed not long ago: as a tech obsession and curiosity that was far enough from the realm of applicability that it could be ignored. Yet those enterprises that chose to invest in and grow comfortable with applying artificial intelligence were those most likely to take advantage as it matured and delivered outperforming results.”

“CEOs who ignore quantum and allow it to become a blind spot may be doing so at their own peril,” the authors conclude.