Fire Your CEO and Hire a Chief Entrepreneurship Officer Instead

What has changed and why it matters. Today’s CEOs have become chief execution officers. The...

What has changed and why it matters.

Today’s CEOs have become chief execution officers. They focus on running the business that the company is already successful in. The chief operating officer (COO) could do this job much better. And while large corporations are busy bringing yesterday’s business to perfection, startups become the market leaders of tomorrow.

Fire Your CEO and Hire a Chief Entrepreneurship Officer Instead
Why is this?
“When experts are wrong,
it’s often because they’re experts on an earlier version of the world.” 
— Paul Graham

In the 1970s companies started to implement a revolutionary concept. Instead of focusing on production, products and selling, they started to focus on the market. What are the needs and wants of our customers? This came up as a totally new question. Companies started to implement marketing departments, so there was somebody to find answers to this question. Some went even as far as appointing a CMO — a chief marketing officer. What a crazy idea.

The rise of the marketing department.

Why was that seen as a crazy idea? People believed that customers don’t know what they want. And even if they knew they couldn’t express it. And seriously: What do customers know about the wonders of technology and the pitfalls of production? How could they possibly have a say in this? All companies needed was a good sales team, so they could educate customers what they need, and how the product solves all their problems.
“As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’” 
— Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’

Then the first companies actually did marketing. They easily captured a large part of the market, simply because they focused on the market. Some companies denied the need for a strong marketing team and sticked to advertising and sales instead. They continued to stay in business for some time, depending on the height of their cash piles. But those companies were like walking dead's.

The end of marketing as we know it.

When the first marketing department were created, the roles of sales, production, and product development changed slowly but tremendously. Over time, the marketing departments forced all other departments to align to the customers’ wants and needs — or whatever was perceived as the wants and needs.

When the first companies move ahead and hire chief entrepreneurship officers, something similar will happen. And the departments that will change most are probably the marketing departments.


To the current CEOs, the world looks like this: There is a C-level team they need to coach, there is a strategy they need to implement internally and of course this strategy needs to be communicated to the outside. Obstacles need to be removed, new opportunities to be seized. The marketing department will spot these opportunities. In some cases there is a staff department for strategic planning and business development, also looking for opportunities.

The chief entrepreneurship officer sees an entirely different world.
He or she sees the world like startup sees it.

The company according to the chief entrepreneurship officer.

  • There are loyal and bright employees, but it is unclear what they will be busy with in the future. Their loyalty shouldn’t be taken for granted. What is clear today are the talents and desires of these employees - are those talents and desires known? If yes, that is a good starting point. Otherwise: How could that company learn more about their employees, beyond those skills that are currently needed?
  • There is a brand or family of brands, but it remains to be seen what this brand or these brands will stand for ten years down the road. What could this brand stand for in the future?
  • There is a cash flow and cash in the bank, but it would be a waste to use that money to perpetuate the existing. Because it is already clear that the world will change, previous investments will be lost, and nobody wants to throw good money after bad money. So in what should the company invest?
  • Removing obstacles means quite often creating a highway in the desert, which takes time and effort, and nobody knows if there is anybody who will ever use that highway. A smarter way is to watch out for trails that emerge naturally because people are using them. Employees, trusted partners and loyal customers are often closer to what happens on the ground, and can already sees those emerging trails. The question is how to pick their brains?
  • There is not a problem identifying opportunities. There are too many opportunities. The hard question is: Which one to follow?
  • It would be crazy to implement a single strategy across the entire company. Because the future cannot be known. It is much smarter to scout several potential paths into the future. Not based on the expected profit, but based on how affordable it is to give them a try. How could you do that if the company is a like a huge cumbersome dinosaur, who would devastate a lot (or might even hurt himself) if changing direction too quickly?

Firing the CEO, and hiring a chief entrepreneurship officer is a bold move. It was also a bold move to create the first marketing departments in history, and provide them with the means to restructure the entire company. But it happened anyway.

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