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CEO vs. President: What are the Differences, Responsibilities & More

Kristin Bachman
4 min read

There are two job titles many people confuse for one another: CEO and President. These titles are often used interchangeably, but many individuals don’t realize these positions handle responsibilities that can be quite different.

In this blog, we outline the differences between each job function, purpose, and what to look for when hiring for each position.


What is a CEO?

Typically, a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking officer in a company, while the President is the second highest. However, this isn’t always the case. In small companies, the CEO and the President are often one and the same. The title CEO wasn't coined until the 70s and wasn't commonly used until the late 80s. Before then, President was the title used to signify an organization's most senior executive.

A CEO oversees the strategic operations of a company and the most important corporate decisions. In a publicly-traded company, the CEO usually serves as the chairman of the board of directors, connecting company performance with stakeholder interests.

The CEO is often the public face of your organization, interacting with the public through community events, chamber of commerce meetings, and more. He or she may also be the company's top salesperson, responsible for making high-level sales pitches and announcing the business’s products and services that'll take the world by storm.


What is a President?

While the CEO is responsible for company strategy and execution, the President's job is to ensure company goals get translated into the day-to-day, nitty-gritty operations.

Sometimes, the CEO, President, and owner job titles are embodied by the same individual. This is usually when a company is relatively small.

In these smaller companies, the owner or founder wears many hats, executing on everything from office tasks to overseeing social marketing and messaging campaigns. The owner, who might also be a CEO and President, certainly has a vested and personal interest in seeing his or her company succeed, and will take on extra responsibilities if resources are limited.  


CEO and President: Duties and Hierarchy Differences

Sometimes, there's a whirlwind of confusion about the division of responsibilities between the owner, Chief Executive Officer, and President. 

There's no legal requirement mandating that a privately held company has to have any of these titles. In most states, corporate governance laws grant companies the freedom to name their officers as they see fit. The only stipulation is someone needs to fill the role of secretary to certify the actions of the board of directors. 

In the US, CEOs are somewhat less standard than Presidents. It's more frequent for a company to have a President, but no CEO - than a CEO with no President.

The two jobs differ in magnitude. While a CEO looks after the entire company, a President generally attends to a single operational unit's minutiae. The President’s responsibilities include working with lower-level executives, outside suppliers, and customers. 

A CEO's primary focus is on seizing opportunities by strategically plotting the company's long-range goals. A CEO is concerned with big picture projects like building shareholder wealth, acquiring market share, and creating a robust company culture. 

The President's job is to make sure daily operations support long-term objectives. Presidents deal with implementing market plans, cutting costs, and other items related to internal operations.  The President also has the fundamental duty of reporting corporate activities to the board of directors. In some cases, the second-highest level executive in a business is called the Chief Operating Officer (COO) instead of President.

If the company is big enough, underneath the President are a slew of Vice Presidents. Also, high-level staffers like Directors and General Managers usually report to the President.

Corporate hierarchy Is determined by structure 

One factor that dictates corporate hierarchy is corporate structure. For instance, in a company composed of many businesses (a conglomerate), there might be a single CEO who oversees several Presidents. The Presidents each run a separate business of the conglomerate. Each President reports to the same CEO.

Are there other names for the CEO and president?

In today's workforce, job titles are increasingly flexible. Professionals might hold similar jobs in companies with vastly different titles.  

For example, in non-profit organizations, the job that is typically given the title President or CEO is given the title Executive Director instead. In partnerships, the top executive often has the title Managing Director with job responsibilities like those of CEO or President.

In European countries, Managing Director and CEO are synonymous. A small business proprietor might call themselves "owner," with job responsibilities similar to those of a CEO or President. 

How is the CEO Hired?

The CEO is often hired by the board of directors. For recruiting purposes, the board creates a team that includes a few directors, the organization’s HR department, and an outside consultant or two. 

Once the team has zeroed in on strategic objectives, it develops the criteria candidates must meet in order to be considered for the position. The team comes up with a compensation package, which must be approved by the board.

What to look for when hiring for a CEO:

When hiring a CEO, you must ensure candidates have the attributes your company needs in order to execute a broader corporate vision.

Here’s what to look for when recruiting your next CEO:

Culture Fit

Culture fit is one of the most crucial attributes to look for in a Chief Executive Officer. A CEO who fits in with your company’s culture will have a much easier time adjusting to the position. He or she will have an easier time nurturing internal relationships.

When assessing cultural fit, don't forget about company values. Your CEO represents your business to the world, so he or she will need to not only believe in them, but embody them as well.

In-depth Industry Understanding

Make sure your candidate has a comprehensive understanding of your company’s industry.

This way, he or she will bring insight into industry trends, staying ahead of ever-changing industry fluctuations and the competition.

A CEO should put his or her industry expertise to excellent use by confidently blazing a path for your company that’ll guarantee success now and into the future. With a CEO who knows how to brilliantly execute ideas to achieve a predefined goal, your company can stay at the top of its field.  

If your candidate has this kind of understanding, he or she just might be the individual you need to be at the helm.

Impeccable Communication Skills 

A CEO needs to be an expert communicator.  

That’s because he or she needs to confidently share with employees, the public, and investors the compelling vision for the company. Not having this skill can be a huge stumbling block to getting your company’s message into the universe.

Adaptable to Rapid-Fire Industry Changes

Technology is always changing, revolutionizing entire industries and leaving others in the dust. No matter whether your company manufactures toilet night lights or missile defense systems, there will always be a never-ending procession of new developments.

A savvy CEO keeps up with every one of these rapid-fire changes to keep your company relevant and ahead of the curve. 

What to look for when hiring for a President:

Look for the following qualities when you’re hiring your next President:

  • Comprehensive knowledge of your markets, products, and services
  • Visionary leadership
  • Vast experience in upper management
  • Highly motivated
  • Superb organizational skills
  • Excellent at communicating with employees and customers
  • Experience building teams and assessing talent strategies


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