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What We Learned From… The Different Kinds of COO

September 9, 2020  |  3 min read
What We Learned From.. The Different Kinds of COO

Earlier this Summer, in our “What You Need to Know Right Now” webinar series, Bower’s CEO (and former COO), Georgina Bale, was joined by 3 current COOs, each having quite diverse backgrounds and working in different industries, to discuss the different types of COOs.

The truth is, the role of a COO isn’t a glamorous one, however, COOs drive their company’s strategy.  COOs are at the center of all major decision-making and must always be thinking ten steps ahead to mitigate risk. As Georgina said it best, “It’s not a glamorous role. You’re often taking the back seat, making sure the engine is turning over and running smoothly. You don’t get the glory compared to those on the front end.” Whilst you can watch the entire conversation here, we break down the top 7 highlights below.  

1. A COO does everything the CEO doesn’t want to do and more.

Paru, whose team is small, does everything from strategy and process, to sales and marketing. From human resources and legal to technology, ultimately, she’s executing the business plan and vision set up by the team. For James, COO at a hedge fund, his role also includes being General Counsel and Chief Compliance. 

2.The role of a COO and their responsibilities are dependent on who they serve.

Harvard Business Review outlines 7 types of COOs: the executor, the change agent, the mentor, the other half, the partner, the heir apparent, and the MVP.  According to Pete, you can be more than one at the same time and it varies depending on the CEO’s role and other leaders on the team. Above all, you have to get along very well with your executive team, especially at a small company.  

3.  COOs are a sounding board for CEO.

James has been working with his CEO for the last decade. “She will come up with an idea and then want to know the impact on the business.” He’s constantly mapping out what they can and can’t do for the evolution of the firm.

4. Managing risk is at the forefront of a COO’s responsibility and it’s not talked about enough.

Great COOs are always looking out for the landmines. As COO, Paru is often the one to give the CEO bad news. “I’m always thinking ten steps ahead about how we mitigate risks and how it impacts the customer, our team and the product itself. My job is to take care of things so the CEO doesn’t worry about it.”

5. The career path to becoming a COO is quite varied but creativity and problem solving are core competencies.

For Paru, who began her career over 20 years ago starting with British Airways, said it was the project management skills that have been most important.  The ability to manage so many things at once and fill in the gaps where needed. Pete, on the other hand, started on the front line helping youth at LTSB and as the company grew, so did his responsibilities helping develop infrastructure and process.

6 Technology and data are central to driving efficient operations and management.

As Pete said it best, “It’s about doing the work, measuring the work, and showing strong outcomes. You’re always looking for new technologies and processes for maximum efficiency. If you are looking at recruitment – technology has an amazing ability to scale bias.”


7. The biggest misconception: it’s just a practical, operational role. NOT TRUE! COOs need to be extremely creative.

“People are coming to you with problems all day long. Variety is what makes it fun.  Everything from challenges with the coffee machines to an office cleaning issue to trading relationships and IT,”  said James. 
To read more from our “What We Learned Series…” check out these articles: “What a Chief of Staff Does?” or “How Hedge Funds Are Evolving.”

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