One company, six CEOs? The CEO is dead.

The titles that adorned my career are a source of sorrow and shame: Policy Officer, Budget Adviser, Economist, Reporter.

Nothing there that speaks to power and influence. Not a single occurrence of the word senior, let alone the words manager, director, or executive.

But I think I’ve found the perfect organisation to work for if I want a bit of prestige…

ANZ appointed a new CEO just this week. It made the papers, just.

The new CEO is ANZ’s sixth. He is also the first one to report to a CEO who is not even the real CEO – the new guy is on the third rung of the organisation. How long until every branch manager and every teller is CEO too?

[ANZ is the third-largest bank in Australia, worth $91 billion, putting it in the top 20 banks in the world by value. Is there a corporation out there with more than six CEOs? I checked the other Australian banks and ANZ has a big lead on them.]

The same rampant contagion happened with the title Vice President in America’s corporate hierarchies. Before long everyone was infected and nobody was impressed.

There are sound economic reasons for title inflation. It makes the employee feel better, and, unlike other forms of compensation, it doesn’t hurt the bottom line. But it only works as long as people still believe the old title has value. Much like inflation works to make people feel better off – but only if they don’t notice prices are rising as much as their wages.

Titles come and go. Even CEO is a fairly recent invention.

In 1955, just one Fortune 500 company was headed by a CEO. The term came into fashion in the 1970s, in the pages of the Harvard Business Review. Before that, bosses were presidents, chairmen or managing directors.

One thing is clear. As ANZ leads the proliferation, dilution and diminution of the title CEO, its future is sunk.

As this article suggests, it is not smart to follow Yahoo!’s lead of fun and funky titles, unless your branding strategy is to be on the fringe. (it works for Miami’s Feverish Ice Cream company, run by a Chief Popsicle. But I don’t see that taking hold at a bank.)

Here are four new title ideas for bosses that could take off:

In a back to the future twist, quite a few bosses on the BRW Fast 100 list identify as Managing Directors.

The term Director is also coming back. It has a certain simple resonance that a three-letter acronym can’t match. Director says: “I don’t need to cloud and complicate this role. I steer the ship and that is that. ”

Founder / Founding partner works pretty well for companies that want to keep their roots as an entrepreneurial small business.

And lastly, US company Zappos is getting rid of job titles altogether.

Have you come across title inflation in your career? Ever been a senior manager of making other people coffee? Seen a cool title that you think might be the next big thing? Leave a comment below!

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

2 thoughts on “One company, six CEOs? The CEO is dead.”

  1. I have just left a job as an ‘adviser’. I am now a ‘co-ordinator’.

    I am not sure if this is a promotion or not.

    I am also not sure whether I prefer the spelling ‘advisor’ and ‘coordinator’…


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