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Management & Leadership

Who Needs COOs?

During a recession, when efficient, lean management is at a premium, chief operating officers would seem to be in hot demand. But the ranks of CEO deputies are dwindling. Executive search firm Crist/Kolder Associates has found the percentage of COOs in big companies is at a 15-year low and the rate of decline has been sharper in 2009 than in any year since 2001.

It's not because of headcount trimming: Rather, says John Keller, a senior client partner at executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, boards are shunning big-picture visionaries for "operationally astute" chief executives, while CEOs want less separating them from the business. Plus, as many CEOs stay on as chairmen when a new chief executive is named, says management consultant Jay Galbraith, these executive duos see less need to add a second in command.

But one unspoken reason COOs' numbers may be falling, says Galbraith, may be simple fear. As the pressure on CEOs heats up, at least a few simply don't want such an obvious successor in place.

Testing Managers' Global IQ

Companies increasingly screen potential leaders for everything from personality traits to emotional intelligence. But the next measure for moving up the ladder may be global IQ.

Researchers at Thunderbird School of Global Management have developed a 91-question exam to assess employees' "global mindset." Managers at Intel (INTC) China, LG Electronics, Raytheon (RTN), and others are currently using it as a self-assessment tool to determine how likely they are to thrive in global roles, according to Mansour Javidan, the professor who designed the study.

An analysis of responses from the 6,000-plus executives who have taken the test thus far found that scores improve when an overseas stint stretches to two years, but a one-year posting isn't much better than six months. And managers under the age of 40 and over the age of 65 scored higher on the exam than those aged 40 to 64. "Whatever the explanation," Javidan says, "the biggest concern with that finding is that group is the one running the world right now."

More Coverage for Domestic Partners

As companies cut back on benefits, one perk is on the rise: domestic partner benefits. Last year the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a nonprofit devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality, found that 17 companies in its annual study of 590 corporations and law firms added the benefit, bringing the total to 554.

HRC measures treatment of LGBT employees by calculating a score that incorporates things like whether LGBT staffers are included in the equal employment opportunity policy. The number of companies that scored 100 rose 17%, to 305.

ExxonMobil (XOM) was the lone large company to score zero. HRC says it lost points for opposing a shareholder resolution that called for explicitly adding sexual orientation and gender identity to its equal employment policy. ExxonMobil says it does not tolerate discrimination, but federal law does not demand that its policy include those groups.

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