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

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February 15, 2021

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There are two job titles that lots of people get confused about: CEO and president.

In this article, you’ll learn the difference between them, how a CEO is hired, what to look for when hiring a CEO, why and more.

Let’s dive in and remove the mind-deadening fog!

What is a CEO?

A CEO is the highest-ranking officer in a company, while the president is the second highest. 

However, these roles might vary depending on the company. In small companies, the CEO and the president are one and the same.

The title of CEO wasn't coined until the 70s and wasn't commonly used until the late 80s. Before that, president was the title used to signify an organization's most senior executive. 

A CEO manages the day-to-day operations of a company and makes all the most important corporate decisions. He’s also the primary intermediary between the company and the board of directors.

Your CEO is the public face of your organization. As such, he’ll be interacting with the public through community events, chamber of commerce meetings, and other ways too. In a publicly-traded company, the CEO often acts as the chairman of the board, as he's responsible for applying the board's decisions to the company's operations. 

The CEO is often the company's top salesperson and is 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 operations as a whole, the president's job is to ensure that company goals get translated into the day-to-day, nitty-gritty operations.

Three titles in one

Sometimes, the CEO, president, and owner job titles are embodied by the same individual.

That's usually when a company is relatively small.

In these kinds of companies, the owner wears many hats, doing everything from emptying the trash baskets to overseeing the latest Facebook marketing campaign

The owner, who's also a CEO and president, probably has more of a vested interest in seeing her company succeed than a CEO or president who doesn't own the company.

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 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 for a company with a CEO at the helm but no president. 

The two jobs differ in magnitude. The CEO looks after the entire company, while the president 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 issues related to internal operations.

The president 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.

CEOs report to the directors, otherwise known as the board. The CEO supervises the president, who can be fired by the CEO. The president delivers reports on company operations to the CEO to keep the big guy in the loop. 

If the company is big enough, underneath the president are a slew of vice presidents.

 Also, higher-level staffers like general managers usually report to the president.

Corporate hierarchy is determined by structure 

One factor that dictates corporate hierarchy is its corporate structure. 

For instance, in a company composed of many businesses (in other words, 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?

Given how flexible job titles are, people might hold similar jobs in companies with vastly different titles.  

For example, in non-profit organizations, the job that is typically given the title of president or CEO is given the name of executive director instead. In partnerships, the top executive often has the title of 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 herself "owner," with job responsibilities similar to those of a CEO or president. As Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

It doesn’t matter what you call your top-tier executives as long as the work gets done! 

How is the CEO hired?

The CEO is 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 its strategic objectives, it develops criteria candidates must meet to be considered for the position.

The team comes up with a compensation package, which must be approved by the board. 

What are you looking for when hiring for each?


When hiring a CEO, you must make sure he has the attributes your company needs to breathe new life into your corporate vision.

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

Good 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’ll also be able to form the valuable relationships your organization needs without too much difficulty.

When assessing cultural fit, don't forget about company values. Your CEO represents your business to the world, so he'll need to not only believe in them--he’ll need to embody them too. 

In-depth Industry understanding

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

This way, he’ll have enough wisdom to formulate a strategic plan that’ll put your company light years ahead of the competition. He also needs to have keen insights into industry trends, which will enable your business to stay on top of ever-changing industry fluctuations.  

A CEO should put his expert industry knowledge to excellent use by confidently blazing a path for your company that’ll guarantee its success now and in 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 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 needs to confidently share with employees, the public, and investors the compelling vision he has for the company. Not having this ability can be a huge stumbling block to getting your company’s message out into the universe.

That's why communication skills are such an essential part of the job!

Endlessly 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 in your industry.

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


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

Looking to fill an executive position? Check out Chief Revenue Officer Job Description: What Does a CRO Do?

A better way to hire

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We’ll harness the power of our proprietary technology to transform thousands of subject matter experts around the world into the world’s most powerful talent network.

This way, we’ll find you the top-tier talent you need to ensure your startup attains its fullest potential.

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