Research Outline

Timeline of C-Level Executive Positions


Provide the history of C-level business positions.
  • Include the timeline of in what order did today's common positions (such as CEO, CMO, CFO, COO, and similar) appear.
  • The timeline should also include when these positions became popular.
  • Additional context on why and how these roles came about will also be helpful.

Early Findings

Data Availability

The initial round of research suggests that the data availability is adequate on the topic.

Timeline of Executive Roles


  • It is believed that the term "Chief Executive Officer" was first used around 1917, in "the time when the modern managerial form of corporate business was established, with people hired to run functions and business units."
  • The role became more popular after World War II when founders of established, fast-growing companies had to take their businesses public to finance growth. As organizational structures grew more complex and new business divisions and product lines started appearing, chief executives with planning and coordination skills became vital.
  • It continued growing in the 1960s and 1970s, which brought new regulations in various areas (including finance, consumer rights, worker safety, advertising, and others), the beginning of globalization, and increased competition. With a greater need for competent leaders to navigate the complex environment, CEOs' pay started to raise for the first time since the end of World War II. At the same time, new concepts of leadership started to arise.
  • Still, it is believed that the role of a CEO in the company's success more than doubled between the 1960s (when it was around 10%) and 2010s.

Other C-Level Roles

  • The role of the Chief Operating Officer (COO) was created around the beginning of the second half of the 20th century to share some of the CEO's responsibilities.
  • There is no information on when the position became widespread, though it is said that it soon became one of the three crucial C-level roles (along with CEO and CFO). It is also noted that despite its importance, it never fully took off, with only about 37% of large European businesses having a COO. The figure is similar for US large businesses.
  • First Chief Financial Officers came to be in the 1960s (around 1963). Before that time, corporations only had financial managers, chief accountants, and finance directors, who were responsible for preparing the books and reporting to higher-level management on financial risk and performance.
  • However, the role became popular around 1978, when the financial regulatory landscape became more complex and difficult to navigate without a financial executive.
  • In the 1980s, the position grew even more, due to the rising popularity of mergers and corporations needing an executive who could predict the weakest performing business units. Other contributing factors include the junk bond market and the new shareholder-value concept, which "put the focus on "core competencies" and place the management of stock price at the very center of corporate decision making.
  • The term "Chief Information Officer" (CIO) was first used in 1981. Before that time, information technology was the responsibility of Chief Financial Officers. Companies also had information managers, but their responsibilities weren't clear. They were also frequently "neglected and misunderstood."
  • The role became significantly more popular and important in the early 1990s, as both technology and the business landscape were becoming more complex. The growth continued throughout the 1990s and later.
  • Even though the concept of Human Resources dates back to the 18th century, the Chief Human Resources Officers were first mentioned around 1985, following the rise of the popularity of HR departments in the 1970s. At that time, new regulations pressured organizations to better address workforce needs.
  • While it is unclear when the position became popular, Datis suggests that it only grew in importance recently. Historically, Chief Human Resources Officers were lower in the organizational chart compared to other C-level executives.
  • The position of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) only appeared in the 1990s, with the emergence of new marketing technologies, data mining programs, and customer relationship management software.
  • Some experts believed that the role became obsolete in the early 2010s, with CEOs being responsible for selling the marketing strategy and CMOs mostly doing the groundwork, which left them feeling underappreciated.
  • However, its popularity spiked again around 2017, when social media marketing started to be seen as a crucial marketing tool.


  • Within the first hour, we were able to provide the timeline of when specific C-level executive roles came to be and when they became popular. We also tried to provide basic context around each of them.
  • We recommend continuing the research to provide more context around why they were introduced and why they grew in popularity.