Gone are the days when a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer and a chief operating officer sitting at the table were enough.
First, luxury e-tailer Yoox Net-a-porter Group appointed a chief people officer charged with managing and growing its global human resources team across Milan, Bologna, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.
That was followed by Japanese beauty giant Shiseido creating a chief growth officer role, responsible for developing a business model to help it continue on the path of global growth, as well as overseeing its new Technology Acceleration Hub.
Most recently, the Dallas-based department store chain Neiman Marcus Group hired a chief transformation officer — a new position that involves bringing chief executive Geoffroy van Raemdonck’s plans to life.
And that’s not it. J. Crew Group poached a chief experience officer from Starbucks, Lululemon Athletica Inc. picked up a chief product officer, Avon Products Inc. got itself a chief procurement officer, Tory Burch appointed a chief client officer — and is said to be on the verge of naming a chief growth officer. Le Coq Sportif even added a chief happiness officer to its staff. The list goes on.
But why are fashion and beauty companies adding these unusual titles to the C-suite? Sucharita Kodali, a vice president at consultancy group Forrester, believes much of the answer lies within tech start-ups — an industry that many brands are trying to poach talent from as they look to catch up in the digital age.
“These are all positions that didn’t exist prior to the year 2000,” she said, adding that some of their functions would have been part of other roles most likely labeled as senior or executive vice presidents.
“You had start-ups that would try to get really senior people and they couldn’t pay them but they would give them equity, which may or may not ever pay off, so they would pay them with fat titles. Once you have a fat title it becomes an expectation when you move around that you at least have something at that level. With beauty and fashion, I think they’re just following other industries.”
As well as attracting talent — especially tech types in a competitive market — it also sends a signal, both within the organization and outside, that the company is very serious about the particular task in hand, according to Kodali. “There’s a signal that it can send that customer experience is really important, or the employee experience is really important, or that the digital experience is really important. That’s the message a C-level position potentially sends to the market, future employees and throughout the organization.”
And these are not the only reasons as the changing needs of the customer and technology has driven a push for both fashion and beauty brands to hire chief customer officers, chief client officers and chief omnichannel officers, as well as other similar titles.
While there are many different labels for this particular role, they all center around the fact that everything has become about enabling the customer to be able to shop seamlessly from one mode to another, while offering each a unique shopping experience.
As for what these other roles actually mean, they tend to do what they say on the tin. A chief growth officer usually works across areas that drive growth such as sales, marketing, research and development and have in the past been much more common in the likes of software companies than in beauty and fashion.
Chief transformation officers are in charge of mergers and acquisitions at some companies and responsible for innovation or digital strategies at others. In the latter category, they used to be known as a chief digital officer when a business just cared about having a good web site and a social media account. However, as technology has advanced, that has evolved into making everything digital, from the supply chain to finance to human resources to the entire customer journey.
“A chief transformation officer is really to help companies shift into fourth industrial revolution which is centered around digital. It’s so vast you need one person dedicated to it,” said Grace Nida, a managing director for the global luxury sector at recruiter Korn Ferry International.
A chief people officer, meanwhile, used to be a chief HR officer, but as one headhunter put it, the new titles sounds “warmer” and telegraphs that the company really cares about its workforce and cultures, as opposed to just resources.
Also working in the HR remit is chief happiness officer, a role that was perhaps unsurprisingly born at Google’s Silicon Valley office but with the even more unusual title of “Jolly Good Fellow.”
The idea is that the head of HR (or chief people officer these days) usually has their hands full with hiring, firing and compensation so there’s a need for an additional employee charged with creating the right kind of environment where people can thrive.
The happiness officer usually works alongside the HR boss and the role can vary from organizing company outings to focusing on workers’ day-to-day needs. Only a handful of companies have taken on a chief happiness officer to date, including French low-cost fashion retailer Kiabi.
In many cases, all these aforementioned roles will be of the upmost importance to companies, reporting directly to the president and the ceo and having a seat at the table in terms of important conversations.
This, however, will vary from business to business, according to Gretchen Spreitzer, faculty director at the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
“It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Are you really trying to change the conversation in the company and the content of what people are doing or is it just about impression management?” she said.
Will these roles last the test of time? Yes, according to Nida, who believes that fashion and beauty will add more chief customer experience officers and chief transformation officers over the next decade.
“Ten years from now it’s going to be normal. These are all titles I see coming up in fashion and beauty. Not everyone will hire all of these roles, but they will become more popular,” she added.
She also expects more chief people officers, chief happiness officers and even chief collaboration officers thanks to Millennials, which became the largest generation in the U.S. workforce in 2016.
“When you have these generation gaps in the way of working, you need people who are going to be able to get these different generations to work together and collaborate. The working style of Millennials is very different to the older generations who are used to working in a very top-down way.”
Kodali isn’t so sure, stressing that these positions are very fluid and may exist one year and not the next: “The number of companies that no longer have chief omni-channel officers is more than the number that have. It was a trend for a period of time.”