The ‘C’ in C-suite stands for ‘chief’, reflecting roles such as chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO) and chief operating officer (COO) – the highest-ranking executives in an organisation. The CEO sits at the very top, often reporting directly to the board of directors, and is responsible for making overarching corporate decisions, setting strategies and representing the organisation to the public and shareholders.

Heather Croall, CEO of Adelaide Fringe, the world’s second-largest annual arts festival – highlights the essential skills necessary for C-suite success.

Want to know how to become an executive? Read on to find out.

C-suite jobs and titles

Does a position in the field of management sound like a great fit for you? Let’s break down the leading C-suite jobs.

Chief executive officer (CEO)
The CEO stands at the top of the corporate ladder, responsible for overall strategic decision-making, company culture and operational management. They typically report to a board of directors and are the face of the company they work for. Aspiring CEOs often climb the ranks through various leadership roles, and an MBA can be crucial in equipping them with the necessary strategic and leadership skills. “As a CEO, you need a blend of strategic vision, adaptive leadership and financial acumen and profound industry knowledge,” Croall says. According to SEEK, the average salary for a CEO in Australia is around $205,000 to $225,000 per year.

Chief financial officer (CFO)
The CFO is key to managing the company’s financial planning, risk management and financial reporting. They typically work closely with the CEO to align financial goals with the company’s strategy. The path to CFO often involves roles in finance or accounting, with an MBA providing an additional edge. The average CFO salary, as reported by SEEK, is between $215,000 and $235,000.

Chief operating officer (COO)
Another integral C-suite title, the COO is often seen as the right hand of the CEO, focusing on the company’s internal operations. They are crucial in implementing business strategies and ensuring operational efficiency. Rising to COO typically involves a background in operations or management. SEEK reports that the average salary for a COO is between $185,000 and $205,000.

Chief information officer (CIO)
The CIO oversees the organisation’s technology strategy, ensuring IT systems support its broader goals. They usually have a strong background in IT and business strategy. The average salary for a CIO in Australia is from $195,000 to $215,000 according to SEEK.

Chief marketing officer (CMO)
The CMO leads the marketing efforts, driving brand strategy and customer engagement. A background in marketing and strategic and creative skills are typical for this role. The salary for a CMO is up to $160,000 a year.

Chief data officer (CDO)
The CDO is responsible for data governance, management and utilisation to drive business decisions. This role often requires a background in data science or analytics. Chief data officers often work closely with CIOs on the use of technology to achieve organisational goals. The average CDO salary is around $160,000.

Chief compliance officer (CCO)
The CCO oversees the company’s compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. They are essential in ensuring the organisation operates within legal boundaries and maintains ethical standards. Typically, a background in law or business compliance is required, and an MBA can provide a broader understanding of business operations and risk management. Expect to earn around $140,000 in this role.

Chief sustainability officer (CSO)
The CSO is dedicated to environmental and sustainable practices in the organisation. They develop strategies to reduce the company’s environmental impact. Backgrounds in environmental science and corporate social responsibility are common, and an MBA can add valuable business strategy knowledge. A CSO earns around $250,000 a year.

How to become a C-suite figure

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to reaching the C-suite. From those who have pursued extensive formal education to individuals who climbed the ladder through on-the-job experience, each path is unique.

Starting in documentary filmmaking and film festival management, Croall transitioned into her role by blending creative expression with business acumen. “As the CEO and director of the Adelaide Fringe, my journey has been deeply rooted in my background in documentary filmmaking,” she says, illustrating her non-traditional path to executive leadership.

Take a look at notable C-suite figures in Australia and you can see how they have achieved their C-suite positions.

Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson joined the airline in 1994 only a few years after graduating from UTS with a Bachelor of Business. She rose through the ranks, from internal audit supervisor to finance controller, then to executive positions in catering, product and services and commercial planning. Hudson advanced to senior positions before being named chief customer officer, then chief financial officer, where she tackled challenges like the impacts of COVID-19. In 2023, she became the airline’s first female CEO, succeeding Alan Joyce.

Andrew Cartledge has been the CFO of global tech provider WiseTech since 2015. Andrew previously spent 25 years at GE, working in a variety of finance roles. In 2011, he became CFO for GE in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. After moving to WiseTech he led the company to a successful public offering in April 2016. Under his leadership, WiseTech has experienced significant global growth. His undergraduate qualifications are in accounting and finance.

Louise Romeo is the COO of the media communications agency Starcom. After graduating from university with a bachelor of communications in 2004, Romeo worked in a variety of roles, including media buyer and investment executive. She was previously the head of investment for Carat Australia and Amplifi. She joined Starcom as the chief client officer in 2020 before being appointed COO in July 2023.

C-suite skills: Essential qualities for top executives

To excel, executives must possess C-suite skills that enable them to lead effectively, make impactful decisions and drive their organisations forward. “They must also be willing to see different perspectives, actively listen to others and adopt an adaptive mindset,” says Heather. “They can bounce back from the knocks along the way, and see failures as opportunities for learning new approaches.”

Understanding and developing these skills should be a focus for professionals aspiring to C-suite roles. Educational pathways like MBAs can play a crucial role in this development, offering structured learning in leadership, strategic thinking and other key areas.

Effective communication is the cornerstone of leadership in any C-suite role. It ensures ideas are conveyed clearly, stakeholder relationships are nurtured, and teams are aligned with the company’s objectives.

Leadership is about inspiring and guiding teams towards achieving goals, as well as having the ability to delegate tasks. A COO, for example, needs strong leadership to manage operations effectively, while a CIO must lead their team through rapidly changing technology landscapes.

Strategic decision-making is critical for C-suite executives. Effective decision-making requires a combination of intuition, analytical skills and an understanding of the business environment.

Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions and empathise with others. In the C-suite, this skill is crucial for managing relationships, negotiating and creating a positive workplace culture.

Change management
This skill is particularly relevant for roles like the chief transformation officer or chief innovation officer, who lead their organisations through periods of change and innovation.

Networking and relationship-building
Networking skills help in forging partnerships, attracting investors and representing the company in the public domain.

How an MBA can propel you to a C-suite executive position

Becoming a CEO or achieving a C-suite position is a culmination of experience, skills and, quite often, the right educational background. An MBA is increasingly seen as a critical stepping stone for professionals aspiring to these top executive roles.

Leadership and management training

The core of any MBA program is its focus on leadership and management. These courses prepare students for the realities of high-level decision-making and organisational leadership. For example, units on strategic leadership help develop the ability to craft and implement company-wide strategies – a key requirement for any C-suite role.

MBA units relevant to C-suite roles

Many MBA programs offer specialised units that align closely with specific C-suite roles. For instance:

  • Finance units for CFO aspirants: These units delve into advanced financial strategies, risk management and fiscal leadership, preparing students for the complex world of corporate finance.
  • Marketing units for CMO candidates: Here, students learn about brand management, digital marketing strategies and customer engagement – skills essential for leading a company’s marketing efforts.
  • Operations management for COO pathways: These units focus on supply chain management, operational efficiency and quality management – all vital for a COO’s role.

“An MBA helps you view challenges from different perspectives, see the bigger picture and sets you up well for collaborating with others from different disciplines,” says Croall. “The courses helped me develop more flexible, adaptive ways of leading and equipped me with new tools that I use to implement solutions and systems – skills that live with you long after graduation.”

Unlocking your C-suite aspirations through an MBA

MBA Discovery university partners Southern Cross University, James Cook University, RMIT and Victoria University offer MBA courses designed to equip students with the skills they need in their path to the C-suite.

To discover your potential to ascend to a C-suite executive role, speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor about the MBA course options. They can guide you through the various programs, helping you find the one that aligns best with your career aspirations and prepares you for the leadership roles of tomorrow.

Speak to a Student Enrolment Advisor

Whether you’re ready to enrol, or just have a quick question, simply fill out the enquiry form below to speak directly to the university’s enrolment team. They will be able to guide you through:

Course eligibility and recognition of prior learning

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