‘Chief disruption officer’: Standing room only as c-suite gets crowded

Leo D’Angelo Fisher Columnist

‘Chief disruption officer’: Standing room only as c-suite gets crowded

Published 25 October 2013 11:25, Updated 28 October 2013 07:32

Life insurance company TAL has created the new position of Chief Innovation and Disruption Officer. It seems there’s always room for one more “C” in the C-suite. Chief Innovation and Disruption Officer is a mouthful of a title, and CIDO doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue either. It’s certainly not as elegant and instantly recognisable as CEO or CFO. All in all, it doesn’t sound a natural fit in the once rarified C-suite. To that extent alone, the new CIDO will be living up to at least half of his job title from day one.Chief innovation officers are also a relatively new entrant to the C-suite, but “disruption” officer?

Andrew Carr, chief executive of technology company Bull UK & Ireland, recently explained the role of this unusual executive role in an article for the Business Computing World blog, Welcoming the Chief Disruption Officer: A New Face at the Boardroom Table.

“Rather than having negative connotations, disruptive in this context means making an impact through an alternative way of thinking about business issues, rather [than] the traditional dictionary definition of ‘throwing into confusion or disorder’,” he explains. “This new interpretation of the word ‘disruptive’ is positive and focuses on developing new ways of working, ultimately leading to new revenue streams and enhanced competitive edge.”

TAL, formerly Tower Australia, until it became part of Japan’s Dai-ichi Life Group in 2011, has recruited Tim Thorne from the UK, who will migrate to Australia to become the life insurer’s inaugural CIDO.

Innovation veteran

TAL chief executive Jim Minto says the new role will “ensure TAL continues to consider ideas and innovations that meet customer needs today and into the future as well as integrate innovation into all parts of the business”.

This will be Thorne’s first formal gig as a chief disruption officer, but he’s an innovation veteran. He was previously Innovation Director at Cancer Research UK and Group Innovation Director for Royal Bank of Scotland. However, that’s not to say Thorne is not a dab hand at disruption.

“Tim brings a wealth of experience as an innovator and disruptor of the status quo to provide solutions for customers that businesses had not considered before,” Minto says.

Who would have thought that “disruption” would find its way on to somebody’s CV, let alone into the C-suite.

The C-suite has become as exclusive as the Qantas Club: both are standing room only.

An industry blog in the US includes an article from a procurement executive who explains that procurement departments are taking on a more strategic role in many organisations. But procurement’s greater prominence is not without drawbacks.

“The C-suite is getting crowded,” writes Joel Johnson, an executive with procurement services firm GEP Worldwide. “At the top levels of an organisation, a CPO must compete with an ever-growing group of executives for influence and funding within an organisation.”

CPO? That would be chief procurement officer. It’s true, C-suites are getting crowded – that’s obviously what the “C” stands for now – but there was no sense of irony from Johnson that CPOs have played their part in making the C-suite so intimate.

The C-suite these days might also include (take a deep breath) a chief visionary officer, chief knowledge officer, chief reputation officer, chief strategy officer, chief diversity officer and chief sales officer.

Inflated titles carry risk

These grand titles presumably signal the importance of the function and its strategic significance within an organisation, and the holder’s seniority. The risk is that “title inflation” threatens to devalue the currency of C-titles.

There is also a risk that the appointment of, say, chief reputation, strategy and compliance officers suggests that what used to be responsibilities and priorities imbued across organisations now become somebody else’s problem.

One wonders if the holders of traditional “C” titles – chief executives, chief financial officers and chief operating officers – look down their noses at the new Cs on the block.

But some chief executives are also getting in on the act.

The founder and managing director of Brisbane-based labour-hire company AWX, Tom Strachan, has recently added “Chief Story Teller” to his title.

Strachan is only partly joking; he’s also very serious. He argues that when a start-up business is in its early stages with only a handful of employees, “the vision of where the business is trying to get to, the ethos of the business and the values by which you operate move through the company by osmosis”.

But as the business grows – AWX is a BRW Fast 100 company – one of Strachan’s priorities is to ensure that he communicates the company’s vision and ethos to all its employees and growing client base.

This, he says, makes him AWX’s chief storyteller – telling the stories that “communicate and clarify the vision and the ethos of AWX and keep the business on track”.

“It’s harder than you think,” he says. “When you’re growing, everyone wants to get down to business without really thinking about where you’ve been and where you’re going.”

However, we can characterise Strachan’s addition to his job description as a piece of entrepreneurial eccentricity. At least his tomfoolery has a purpose; it’s not as clear that the expansion of the corporate C-suite is as well founded.

The good news, perhaps, is that at long last that much maligned, all-purpose Australian executive, the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, has found a home.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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