TMCnet Feature
July 08, 2020

Jon Parrish Provides Overview of a COO's Role in Present-Day Companies

A modern-day chief operating officer's (COO) role is inextricably linked to versatility, with companies showing varying incentives in deciding to appoint them and establishing unique responsibilities that come with the position.

CEOs, pressured to complete a wide array of duties, often look to the COO to be their eyes and ears, ensuring that the company is receiving steady internal leadership that will allow it to attain its exalted goals.

Jon Parrish, the COO of Coastal Maintenance & Restoration in Naples, Florida, explains some of the diverse roles that many of his peers accept when those three letters accompany their desk's name plate.

A Go-Getter

A lot of companies bring on a COO to successfully execute strategies handed down by the top management team in the hierarchy, Jon Parrish says. With numerous commitments keeping them busy, the CEO relies on the COO to oversee and deliver the enterprise's expected results, both daily and on a quarter-to-quarter basis. Businesses that depend upon a seamless operation, such as the airline and automotive industries, are especially keen on adopting a COO position, while organizations that deal in extremely competitive markets, like high-tech firms, are equally motivated to nominate a candidate.

Bill Watkins, the CEO of Seagate Technology, counts on COO David Wickersham to guarantee that the business is performing at its best. This arrangement allows Watkins to concentrate on the company's long-term ambitions because Wickersham is there to manage the operational details that are vital each day.

An Adviser

If a young or inexperienced CEO is calling the shots, which generally is the case when said individual is the company's founder, a COO is sometimes brought in to help steer the ship, Jon Parrish states. A renowned entrepreneurial veteran can offer wisdom, sage advice and a tremendous network that will nurture the CEO and the ascending business. After the CEO grows into the role and gains valuable experience at the helm, the COO might be released or remain in the company with a heavily modified function.

In 1994, Dell (News - Alert) was prospering at a rapid pace, creating a dilemma for its founder, Michael Dell, since his managerial experience was insufficient in terms of keeping up with the company's momentum. So, he hired Mort Topfer, who was enjoying a successful career at Motorola at the time, to be his COO, recognizing that it was crucial to have an experienced executive by his side. Netscape and Google (News - Alert) also went along this mentoring route to support their respective founders.

A Partner

A partnership is the most viable solution for certain CEOs and nobody can dispute the advantage of a second opinion always being nearby, Jon Parrish notes. Labelled as the "two in a box" model or simply "co-leadership", it fosters a set-up that an increasing number of companies are beginning to institute. While it is a challenging blueprint to master, the long-term rewards can be extraordinary for the company.

Micheal Dell introduced Kevin Rollins as his COO in 1996 and the pair worked in unison for years, guiding the business forward, with Dell operating as the chairman and Rollins rising to CEO status. By a similar token, a COO can act as a complimentary aid to the CEO, a foil to the leader's style, knowledge and particular inclinations. Bill Gates (News - Alert) and two of his past COOs, Jon Shirley and Michael Hallman, encapsulated this type of relationship effectively.

A Successor

Frequently, an organization will finalize a COO position to gauge someone's qualifications as a potential CEO. Although it might be perceived as a baptism by fire and somewhat intimidating, this process exposes an heir apparent to the company's entire landscape (business, environment and the employees).

Continental Airlines employed this strategy years ago, as CEO Gordon Bethune vacated the throne and passed it on to his COO, Larry Kellner. Following his appointment as second in command at Exxon, Rex Tillerson was cast into the public spotlight gradually more to groom him as the eventual replacement for CEO Lee Raymond. However, just because one is touted as the next head figure, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are destined to get there. A trusted senior executive might have incentive to leave if the position is not offered in a timely manner or if it ultimately went to a colleague. And, of course, there is the possibility that the COO failed to live up to the hype and was no longer in contention for that next step.

An Instrument of Change

Lastly, there are companies that target a COO to initiate specific changes, be it a turnaround, massive organizational shift or a proposed expansion. Such a person would undoubtedly have to display a voice of authority that, one way or another, achieved remarkable results. At Oracle, Larry Ellison (News - Alert) hired Ray Lane, assigning him the responsibility of improving the sales and marketing organizations that were in disarray. Much to his credit, Lane went on to produce a massive upsurge in the company's sales and net profit figures.

Final Thoughts from Jon Parrish

As discussed, choosing to add a COO to your company’s roster can be monumental in many ways, but how do you know if you are ready to hire a COO? If you are spending more time managing the day-to-day than improving on processes, if your CEO is overwhelmed, or if you need someone to executive on your ideas, it may be time to hire an experienced COO, says Jon Parrish.

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