The versatility of a Chief Operating Officer is the most critical role of any executive in a company — including the CEO.
By Eve Gumpel, California Business Journal
Bill Shepard has served as CEO and Chief Operating Officer in companies as diverse NordicTrac, Gap, Philips Electronics, Cole National and Pacific Linen. He has also served as an interim COO since 1999 and worked as a C-Suite coach and mentor for Northern California companies in varied industries and sizes.
Having been a member of CEO groups during his time in the CEO role, while serving as an interim COO, Shepard sought to improve his own COO professional development and went looking for an organization of COOs.
But he couldn’t find one.
So, in 2004, he launched his own professional development organization – the Chief Operating Officer Business Forum® (COO Forum®), expressly for COOs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
COO Forum chapter meetings are held monthly and last two hours. Members spend part of the time helping each other solve business issues or talking about business challenges. The rest of the time is focused on best practices, usually presented by a guest speaker or thought leader.
Today, the COO Business Forum has 21 local chapters and 18,000 members in its LinkedIn group. Chapters in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom are coming on board in the first quarter of 2019. Shepard’s goal is 50 chapters by January 1, 2020.
With the expansion of the COO role and the increased entry of first-time COOs, Shepard’s services have “become even more relevant to the COOs and greater business community,” he says.
For the past 15 years, and going forward, COO Forum delivers significant benefits to its COOs and their companies by providing a collaborative peer group; expanding individual members’ professional development; sharing COO-specific best practices; connecting the greater Second-in-Command community; and broadening the understanding throughout all parts of our companies.
“There is no one role within a company that has so much essence and mystery surrounding it than the COO,” Shepard says.
This is what Shepard believes to be the most important COO qualities:
- Expertise and know-how to execute company’s mission.
- Coalescing senior leaders.
- Effective execution.
- Leading the company when the CEO is gone.
- Agility to transition from issue to issue and topic to topic, seamlessly and effectively.
- Humility to know your role while supporting the CEO, the company, and the leadership team.
“The versatility required of this role is the highest of any of the C-Suite roles that exist, including the CEO,” Shepard says. “If you look at all the other C-level roles, there are specific things they’re assigned to. The COO isn’t that kind of role. They’re responsible for a lot of different things, and mostly they’re responsible for working with all of the leaders in the company and getting those leaders working well together.”
The key ingredient, Shepard points out, is that the COO has to fit in with the rest of the executive team. Each company is different, and the COO has to have the emotional quotient to be effective at working with lots of different arenas of business and also working with lots of different styles of approach to business.
The relationship between a CEO and COO is the single most important dimension of successful COOs, Shepard says. One of the determining factors of success is understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both the COO and the CEO to determine the roles and responsibilities of each to the company and to each other.
The relationship between a CEO and COO is often called “two-in-a-box.” For example, the COO should be able to say to the CEO, “I disagree with what you’re thinking of doing; here’s what I think we should do.” The CEO, for his or her part, can say, “I hear you, but we’re going to do it anyway.” At that point, the COO has to commit fully to that course of action – and go all out to make it work.
“You have to be flexible enough that you can execute something that you don’t necessarily believe is the right thing for the company,” Shepard says.
The COO Forum provides “a safe place” where COOs find peer support, guidance and collaboration to help them in succeed in their roles and responsibilities“Our members learn, grow, and become more effective as a result of their peers,” Shepard says. “They ask for guidance, exchange knowledge, share ideas and develop best practices – all within a community of peers that is safe and supportive.
“We hear from COOs all the time who say they have no safe place to go for guidance and support. They can’t always go to their CEO or others on the executive team, not even to their partners or spouses,” Shepard says. “Our peer group becomes a safe place for them to work through the quagmires of the job and be able to go back to their companies refreshed and tackle the challenges of the day.”
Laura Weikle is the Executive Vice President — and Second-in-Command — at the COO Forum and has achieved extraordinary contributions over her 11 years with the organization. She heads chapter development and has a big role in the organization’s future growth and finding and onboarding new Chapter Directors.
“The starting point of every great local COO Forum chapter is in its Chapter Director,” Weikle says. “They are crucial to the organizing, orchestrating and delivering their COO Forum Chapter. Our Directors are the key to success in our local effort to support COOs and each is of executive quality and experience, making them confident and knowledgeable in the C-Suite and COO position.”
Copyright © 2019 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.
Bill Shepard, CEO at COO Forum
firstname.lastname@example.org /(408) 206-7953
Laura Weikle, EVP at COO Forum
email@example.com / (770) 366-1123