What is the difference between president and CEO in a company? CEOs hold the highest title at the company, responsible for its overall strategy, with the president second in command.
But every organization is different—the structure of the executive leadership team at a company will vary, with the same person sometimes occupying both the title of CEO and president.
“The CEO, COO, president [and] chairman of the board all kind of get smushed together in a title soup, and you see multiple combinations of those four titles across companies,” according to Jan Koors, senior managing director at Pearl Meyer, an executive compensation consultancy.
Koors added that even within companies throughout their history, the structure of the company can vary and may depend on the number of employees they have to manage and the complexity of the company’s operations. She pointed out that at many companies, the president has become the functional equivalent of the Chief Operating Officer, which is also a job title that may entail handling day-to-day tasks. And she noted that CEOs are also almost always members of the board, while presidents might not be.
“This is a big rule of thumb, but generally, you might see a 15% pay difference between the CEO and president,” Koors said.
When it comes to division of labor, Presidents/COOs will typically be in charge of “back-office responsibilities,” with the finance, IT and legal departments reporting to them. Meanwhile, CEOs are more likely to be charged with leading client-facing departments, like sales and product development, according to Koors. (Although she added that sometimes these responsibilities may be reversed.)
Sometimes the presidential title might not exist at a company, or one individual may have both titles. Koors said one of the advantages of having the same person occupy both roles is that it doesn’t create confusion about who’s really in charge.
“There’s no question as to where the buck stops,” Koors said.