Aiming for the top

A guide for aspiring COOs and their organizations

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More than most other executive positions, the precise scope of the COO’s role varies widely from one company and industry to another. Which are the seven capabilities that matter most for tomorrow’s COO?

EY’s research into the COO role shows several broad areas in which nearly all COOs play an active role. These areas span the categories of execution, enablement and development.

Find out more about the COO role here.

While the full list of possible skills is extensive, we find seven specific capabilities that are common to nearly all COOs. They form the core elements that any future COO candidate will need to demonstrate, either as concrete evidence on their CV, or as specific references that showcase their competency.

EY - Core skills: the seven capabilities that matter most for tomorrow’s COO

Transformation: mastery of change management

One of the key skills is being able to be a change agent and to break the silos,” says AXA’s Group COO Véronique Weill. “It’s the ability to lead people, to interact with the business, and to push it into a different territory or direction, or make them do things that perhaps they would not like to.

Strategy: engaging in board-level discussions

The COO must understand and influence what the board and the CEO want to achieve, as well as how they can then transform or convert those expectations into actions for different functions in the organization to drive,” says Buddhadeb Das Gupta, the COO of Nous Infosystems, a rapidly expanding Indian IT firm.

Compliance: setting and enforcing robust operational controls

Across several sectors, regulatory scrutiny of organizational controls is intensifying, putting even more pressure on companies to ensure that theirs are appropriately established and enforced. Responsibility for setting up and enforcing such controls often lies with the COO.

Structure: designing and implementing the organization’s operational model

Any company’s operational model can be broken down into people, processes and technologies. But the magic that makes one model succeed over another lies in how it is configured and aligned to the overall strategy, and how its performance is measured.

Performance: proficiency in identifying and extracting efficiencies

Véronique Weill, Group COO at AXA, describes a specific goal of reducing expenses by €1.7b. “It’s a focus on efficiency, but it’s also about being client centric. Having a transversal view of the different functions enables me to drive the efficiency process,” she points out.

Insight: deep industry and market knowledge

You really have to know your customers and your market. It doesn’t mean you need to be at the ultimate level of detail in each of their workflows or business models, but you must have a strong appreciation of how the markets operate,” says Andrew Watts, the Global Head of Customer Administration at financial services media firm Thomson Reuters.

Global: finding a multicultural management approach

Kamal Tandon, COO of Indian consumer products firm Nalli Silk, spent part of his career in the US, before relocating to India in 2005: “Each culture has its own issues. In some countries, such as India, family comes first, while work is second. So you have to really watch and see when is best to push for certain deliverables, and when to hold off.