Aiming for the top

A guide for aspiring COOs and their organizations

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Why would a promising operations manager want to be a COO? Explore why the chief operating officer position is so appealing to the organization’s best and brightest and map the diverse routes that can lead to the top.

In advance: there’s no single route to the role of chief operating officer (COO). Rather, it is a position that attracts the most talented and diverse individuals from all corners of the business, all of who share a passion for making an organization work better.

From the organizational perspective, besides the personal attributes required, the ideal candidate is often determined by the company’s strategic needs and business model. This in turn defines the core competencies and capabilities that should stand out most in the candidates who are being considered for the role.

Why aspire to be COO?

COOs can expect to help deliver a strategic rethink of the business at one level, while dealing with the minutiae of operational processes and production targets at another. And while C-level peers like the CFO or CIO typically enjoy more defined remits, COOs are torn in all directions.

Indeed COOs are often the organization’s go-to person for problems of nearly every description. “Every day in the life of a COO is a challenge,” agrees Stephen Walters, the COO of Fernridge Consulting, a research firm in South Africa. “But for the natural problem solvers that aspire to this role, this is what makes the position appealing.

How to get there

To get hired as a COO, prospective candidates must possess an impressive portfolio of skills and experience. Depending on the sector in question, this often requires relevant technical expertise.
But which are the core skills that matter most? What career development choices will help to bolster a prospective candidate’s CV? And what can today’s operations managers do to stand out from their rivals?