Mar 2, 2023 - Economy

The career path of Fortune 100 CCOs

Data: Axios research; Note: Three Fortune 100 companies do not have a CCO or equivalent; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals
Data: Axios research; Note: Three Fortune 100 companies do not have a CCO or equivalent; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Chief communications officers (CCOs) are having a moment as top executives lean on them for navigating crises, aligning employees and promoting and protecting the business or brand.

Why it matters: There's no one path to becoming a CCO — but the skills are in high demand and are easily transferrable.

By the numbers: Of the Fortune 100 CCOs, roughly 62% were promoted from within and 10% are lifers who have been with the company throughout their entire career.

  • 43% of CCOs started in the corporate world, followed by politics and government (24%), PR agencies (17%) and journalism (8%).

Yes, but: While CCOs come from varied career backgrounds, they themselves are not particularly diverse, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data gathered by Zippia.

Share of people in U.S. Chief Communication Officer roles, by ethnicity
Data: Zippa; Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Zoom in: Female representation has increased about one percentage point per year — from about 30% in 2011 to 40% in 2021.

  • Three-quarters of CCOs are white, while 9% are Hispanic/Latino, 6% are Black/African American, 5% are Asian and less than 1% identify as American Indian and Alaska Native.
  • The average age is 42 years old, with 55% falling in the 40+ age range, 33% in their 30s and about 12% in their 20s.

What they're saying: The role of communicators is often misunderstood. According to Microsoft CCO Frank Shaw, communicators are responsible for speaking out, convening and then negotiating for the right outcome.

  • “Our job is to look broadly across the industries we are in and provide a unified view so that we aren't making decisions in a vacuum," says Shaw.
  • Yes, but: Three companies within the top 100 — Berkshire Hathaway, Tesla and Enterprise Products — still do not have a head of comms.

What we're watching: Chief communicators might capitalize on this moment and jump into the CEO pipeline — which is typically reserved for heads of operations or finance.

  • Communicators can also seize the moment to snag a spot in the boardroom. Only 16 CCOs currently sit on Fortune 500 boards, according to Spencer Stuart research.

The bottom line: Communications is now arguably the most important skill for any leader of any organization, big or small ... and heads of comms are as vital as the COO or CFO, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei writes.

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