How to be a COO | Career guide

Gerald Lombardo

Gerald Lombardo
December 21, 2022 7 min read

The Chief Operating Officer or COO is an interesting and dynamic position. There are certain qualities and responsibilities shared by all COOs, and others very specific to the company. Generally speaking, though, the COO is a corporation’s 2nd highest ranking executive, and the one who runs “day-to-day” operations. 

But what are day-to-day operations?That depends. If you’re like former COO of Meta, Sheryl Sandberg, for instance, it can encompass a huge range of responsibilities. In other cases, responsibilities may be more narrow or aimed at specific goals like administrative optimization.

Whichever “type” of COO you have, though, at least one thing remains the same: It’s an exciting and influential position - one that demands broad knowledge across many different business functions. 

For those looking for clarity on what the COO position entails, as well as how to become one, Popl is here to help. Here’s what you need to know about how to be a COO.

COO

What is a COO?

As a company’s second-in-charge, the COO reports directly to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and works closely with other members of the executive team to develop and implement strategies to achieve the company's goals. The COO is responsible for managing the company's resources, including financial, human, and technological resources, to ensure that the company is operating efficiently and effectively. The COO also plays a key role in managing the company's relationships with stakeholders, such as customers, employees, suppliers, and regulators. In some cases, the COO may also be responsible for overseeing the company's marketing and sales efforts.

What does a COO do?

The specific responsibilities of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) can vary depending on the size and nature of the company, as well as the industry in which it operates. However, some common responsibilities of a COO may include:

  • Managing the day-to-day operations of the company: The COO is responsible for overseeing the various departments and functions of the company to ensure that they are operating efficiently and effectively. This may include managing budgets, setting goals and targets, and coordinating the work of different teams.
  • Developing and implementing strategies: The COO works with the CEO and other members of the executive team to develop and implement strategies to achieve the company's goals. This may include identifying new opportunities for growth, developing new products or services, and expanding into new markets.
  • Managing resources: The COO is responsible for managing the company's resources, including financial, human, and technological resources. This may include setting budgets, allocating resources to different projects, and ensuring that the company is using its resources efficiently.
  • Managing relationships: The COO plays a key role in managing the company's relationships with stakeholders, such as customers, employees, suppliers, and regulators. This may include negotiating contracts, resolving disputes, and building partnerships with other companies.
  • Overseeing marketing and sales efforts: In some cases, the COO may be responsible for overseeing the company's marketing and sales efforts. This may include developing marketing campaigns, managing the sales team, and analyzing market trends to identify new opportunities for growth.

How to become a COO

what is a COO

Again, the short answer here is that “it depends.” In some cases, the COO of a company is one of its founders or founding team members who naturally grows into the role. Other times, Chief Executive Officers come in at later stages. Still, there are some generally trends that can be observed and used as guideposts for those interested in becoming COOs.

Here are some actions you can take to help become a COO:

  • Build a strong foundation: To become a COO, you will need to have a solid foundation in business and leadership. This may include earning a bachelor's or master's degree in a relevant field, such as business administration or management. You may also want to gain experience in different areas of the business, such as finance, marketing, or operations, to gain a well-rounded understanding of how a company operates.
  • Develop your leadership skills: COOs are expected to be strong leaders who can motivate and manage teams effectively. You can develop your leadership skills by taking on leadership roles within your current organization or by participating in leadership development programs or workshops.
  • Gain relevant experience: To become a COO, you will need to have a track record of success in managing and growing businesses. This may include experience in managing budgets, developing and implementing strategies, and leading teams to achieve results.
  • Network and build relationships: Building relationships with industry leaders and decision-makers can help you learn about job opportunities and position yourself as a potential COO candidate. Consider attending industry events, joining professional organizations, and networking with other professionals in your field.
  • Continuously learn and grow: To succeed as a COO, you will need to be a continuous learner who is open to new ideas and approaches. Stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices, and seek out opportunities to learn and grow in your career.

COO skills

Being a great COO means synthesizing a combination of skills: technical, business, and, of course, leadership skills. Specifically, here are some of the most important skills for an effective COO:

  • Strategic thinking: COOs are expected to have a strong strategic vision and the ability to think long-term. They should be able to develop and implement strategies that align with the company's goals and vision.
  • Financial management: COOs are responsible for managing the company's resources, including its financial resources. They should have a strong understanding of financial management principles and be able to develop and manage budgets, as well as analyze financial data to make informed decisions.
  • Business acumen: COOs should have a deep understanding of how businesses operate and be able to identify opportunities for growth and innovation. They should be able to analyze market trends and make informed decisions about the direction of the company.
  • Leadership: COOs are expected to be strong leaders who can motivate and manage teams effectively. They should be able to inspire and guide others to achieve results and should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Problem-solving: COOs should be able to identify and address problems and challenges in a timely and effective manner. They should be able to think critically and creatively to come up with solutions to complex problems.
  • Adaptability: COOs should be able to adapt to changing circumstances and be comfortable operating in an environment of uncertainty. They should be able to pivot and make quick decisions when needed.

How much do COOs make?

COO career advice

The salary of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including the size and nature of the company, the industry in which it operates, the COO's level of experience and education, and the location of the company. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for top executives, including COOs, was $104,690 in May 2020. 

However, COOs at larger companies or in higher-paying industries may (and often do) earn significantly more. Additionally, COOs may also receive bonuses, stock options, and other forms of compensation, which can significantly increase their total earnings. It is important to note that salaries can vary widely depending on these and other factors, and the BLS data should be used as a general guide rather than a definitive measure of what COOs earn.

Famous Chief Operating Officers

There have been many famous COOs throughout history, here are just a few you can look to for guidance, advice, and inspiration.

  • George David: George David was the COO and CEO of United Technologies Corporation, a position he held from 1994 to 2008. He is considered the classic COO and is credited with turning the company into a global leader in the aerospace and building systems industries.
  • Sheryl Sandberg: Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook, a position she has held since 2008. Prior to joining Facebook, Sandberg served as the Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google.
  • Ginni Rometty: Ginni Rometty is the former COO and CEO of IBM, a position she held from 2012 to 2020. She was the first woman to lead the company in its 100-year history.
  • Tim Cook: Tim Cook is the COO and CEO of Apple, a position he has held since 2011. Prior to becoming CEO, Cook served as Apple's COO for several years.
  • Joseph R. Pietri: Joseph R. Pietri is the COO of Goldman Sachs, a position he has held since 2021. Prior to joining Goldman Sachs, Pietri served as the COO of Blackstone Group.

Best resources for aspiring COOs

Experience is one thing (and certainly it’s essential), but if COO is what you want then you’ll also need to do your homework. No, this is not a painful process - or, at least, it shouldn’t be. When it comes to “studying” the COO position something as simple as watching weekly YouTube videos can majorly contribute to your understanding. Other than casual video resources, here are some helpful ways to educate yourself and advance your journey to becoming a Chief Operating Officer: 

  • Professional organizations: Joining professional organizations, such as the Association for Operations Management (APICS) or the Project Management Institute (PMI), can provide access to industry-specific resources, networking opportunities, and continuing education opportunities.
  • Executive coaching: Working with an executive coach can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed as a COO. Executive coaches can provide personalized guidance and support as you work towards your career goals.
  • Online courses and degree programs: There are many online courses and degree programs that can help you develop the skills and knowledge needed to become a COO. These programs can cover topics such as business strategy, financial management, and leadership development.
  • Books and articles: Reading books and articles on business, leadership, and management can provide valuable insights and ideas for how to succeed as a COO. There are many books and articles available on these topics, including those written by successful COOs.
  • Industry events: Attending industry events, such as conferences and seminars, can provide an opportunity to learn from industry leaders, network with other professionals, and stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices in your field.

How to be a COO | Conclusion

COO

There you have it, everything you need to know about how to become a Chief Operating Officer. 

Whether you’re fresh out of college, or just a step away, it always helps to zoom out and make all of your career development decisions from a calm and clear state of mind. 

Becoming a COO does not happen overnight,nor should it. Why? Because the COO position is one that requires diligence, patience, and attention to detail. These are all skills honed naturally over time. So embrace the winding path - embrace the day-to-day of your journey to the C-suite.

Set your intentions, YES. But do not think ONLY of the end goal...As Annie Dillard once put it - How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.So be patient, take diligent, conscious steps, celebrate wins along the way, and you will, no doubt, get there.

Good luck!



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