In a growing company, at some point, the CEO’s time will become a brake on progress.
Installing a Chief-of-Staff (CoS) is a proven way of getting more leverage from that finite resource.
Here is Paypal co-founder Max Levchin on the CoS’ role:
“A CEO has three main responsibilities: 1) articulate the vision; 2) attract talent; and 3) ensure solvency.
The truth is, much more [than this] lands on a CEO’s plate at any given minute and my chief of staff works to take as much as possible off my plate so I can focus on the highest level strategy and decisions that require my attention without neglecting the other important issues that foster growth.”
Andy Grove at Intel was the first technology CEO to leverage the CoS role. Intel called the role ‘Technical Assistant to the CEO’, and one of Grove’s early ‘Technical Assistants (TAs)’ — Paul Otellini — went on to become an Intel CEO himself. So too did former TA Renee James.
When he was at Intel, legendary venture capitalist John Doerr saw how valuable the TA role was to Grove. While on the Amazon board, Doerr recommended to Jeff Bezos that in his “ongoing quest for more efficiency and effectiveness” he appoint a TA/CoS.
Stig Leschly was an early Bezos CoS and he described the role saying:
“I was a receptacle for him for any of the 19 ongoing activities in his brain that didn’t have a place in the normal organization. He would walk around and go into meetings, and I would get to follow. I would just sit there and observe… and then he’d have an idea, and he would give it to me to figure out.
In 2003, Bezos appointed Andy Jassy his CoS. Jassy went on to run AWS.
What started at Intel, and was made famous at Amazon, is now replicated all over Silicon Valley (Tesla, SpaceX, Zynga, LinkedIn, eBay).
As Leschly has said: “It was honest to God one of the most extraordinary things a young person can do.”
The CoS role is usually a 1–2 year tour of duty.
After two years with the CEO, there should be some osmotic effect, whereby the CoS is ready for an executive leadership role.
Over time, as they accumulate knowledge about the organisation and observe the decision-making patterns of the CEO, they develop the ability to accurately represent the CEO in any meeting.
The kinds of things that CoS’ do:
- taking minutes at meetings
- being the CEO’s representative in meetings
- conferring with the CEO at the start/end of the day/week
- preparing internal and external presentations for the the CEO
- travelling with the CEO
- coordinating OKRs
- assembling dashboards & analyses for the CEO
- and overall, just making sure the important things get done.
Think of the CoS as a second brain for the CEO.
Having that second brain to focus on “the other important issues that foster growth” should give massive leverage to the CEO by freeing them up to focus on the high-level strategy pieces that they are uniquely placed to own.