CEO v. Chairman v. Pres--What's the deal behind corporate (and university) titles?

Each major corporation has a chairman of the board, a CEO, a president, and more. (Some serving dual roles, of course.)
At a major university, there is a chancellor, a president, regents, and more.

What does each do? I understand that the chairman presides over the corporate board, but what does s/he really do on a day to day basis? When the Exxon Valdez disaster happened in Alaska, locals were upset that only Exxon’s president came to visit, calling him a “junior” executive. In the really large corporations and universities, what other major titles/positions are there–and what do they do?

(Is a university chancellor equivalent to a chairman of the board and the regents board members? What do they really do?)

I think that all of the titles have to do with the one-upmanship of American Life. My Grandfather was Vice-President of an American Corporation back in the 30’s and 40’s, back when that meant someting. Now, the same title refers to,what was once basically an upper level manager. As corporate bureaucracy grows, new titles are invented for those at the top, so those below them can be given paper promotions without actually going anywhere.

A corporation is owned by the stockholders. The stockholders generally elect a Board of Directors, among which is a President. The President, being the representative of the shareholders, is the Supreme Boss of the company. The CEO is the person appointed by the President to run the day-to-day business of the company, and sign contracts between the corporation and other entities.

The owner is whoever has a majority share (50%+) of stock. Often, the owner, president, and CEO will be the same person.

I dunno anything about academic stuff. That’s why I dropped out of college. :smiley:

You got it backwards, friedo. The CEO is the top manager in the organization and reports to the Board of Directors (hence the title Chief Executive Officer). The CEO has responsibility for the performance of the entire corporation and may or may not perform day-to-day operations tasks. Only the Board of Directors may fire the CEO, which sometimes leads to interesting deals in takeover situations.

The President reports to the CEO. The corporation president almost always has direct control of day-to-day operations of the corporation. There are cases where there are multiple corporate presidents with responsibility for a particular aspect of the business (ie - a subsidiary). There is never more than one CEO.


Highest ranking officer in a corporation after the Chairman of the Board. For smaller companies, often the same person as the Chief Executive Officer.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
The executive who is responsible for a company’s operations, usually the President or the Chairman of the Board.

Chairman of the Board
The highest-ranking officer in a corporation’s board of directors. Presides over corporate meetings. Sometimes has executive authority over a firm, sometimes does not. see also Board of Directors.

Board of Directors
Individuals elected by a corporation’s shareholders to oversee the management of the corporation. The members of a Board of Directors are paid in cash and/or stock, meet several times each year, and assume legal responsibility for corporate activities. also called directorate. see also dividend, split, outside director, proportional representation, statutory voting, staggered board of directors

Board of Trustees
A group of people that oversees a non-profit organization. see also trustee.

An individual or organization which holds or manages and invests assets for the benefit of another. see also beneficiary, Board of Trustees, corporate fiduciary, deed of trust, direct rollover, guardian, conservator, administrator, representative, discretionary trust, nondiscretionary trust, bankrupt.

And then from the Bylaws of the Regents of the University of Nebraska:

I think the use of “President”, etc. in universities is a pretty recent thing (like in the last 100 years kind of recent) reflecting the “business-ization” of colleges-- the terms dean, provost, etc. were very old terms from when universities were ecclesiastical institutions.

I spend a lot of time forming corporations, so I can chime in on this one.

In the US, corporations (including not-for-profit corporations) are formed under state incorporation statutes. Most state statutes require corporations to have at least two officers: a president and a secretary (who may be the same person). Other officer positions/titles are generally optional, and a corporation’s bylaws establish which other officers–typically a treasurer or a vice president, but potentially chief exalted poobah of marketing (i.e., any titles they want)–a corporation will have. A typical corporation also has a board of directors; the president and the other officers may but need not be directors, and directors are not necessarily officers. The only exception to this is the Chairman of the Board; if this optional office is established by a corporation, this person will always be a director. Since the board of directors has the power to appoint and remove officers and direct the corporation’s affairs, the Chairman of the Board, if there is one, is typically a corporation’s most powerful officer, but is not typically in charge of day-to-day operations.

Regulatory bodies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, also sometimes mandate that certain officers sign certain documents. Every public company must have a chief executive officer and a chief financial officer, for example. These do not need to be official titles–the president may well function as the CEO. (Indeed, the proliferation of different titles with different responsibilities attached thereto by various corporations pretty much forces the government to define officers by function.) Given the high profile nature of these regulatorily-mandated positions, however, corporations often establish officer positions called CEO and CFO in their bylaws. This also comes in handy, as others have noted, when a corporation finds it necessary to give important titles to a large number of high-level executives.

Generally, the hierarchy is as follows: Chairman, CEO, President, Executve Vice President, CFO, Senior Vice President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, Assistant Treasurer and Assistant Secretary, remembering always that many officers will hold more than one title (Vice President and CFO), that many corporations will not have certain officers at all and that others may have a key executive with a different title (General Counsel and Corporate Secretary).

Now for the exceptions: not-for-profit and governmental entities (such as many universities) may operate under special enabling statutes or may not be corporations at all. Not-for-profit corporation statutes often permit directors to be referred to as trustees, managing partners or members; this may also occur if the entity is formed as a trust, a partnership or a limited liability company. In these cases, there is so much room for variation that there is no way to know who the ranking officer of an institution is without reviewing either or both of the implementing statute and bylaws (can also be called other names) of the entity. Thus, waterj2 is quite right to look at the University of Nebraska’s bylaws if that university is the entity is question; no other university bylaws will be identical. (I am also ignoring other exceptions from highly regulated industries such as insurance where the Chief Actuary often has real power.)

In sum, corporations and institutions have a great deal of leeway to call their top bananas, chief bottle washers and stategic navel-gazers pretty much anything they want.