Small-business owners often wrestle with what title to give themselves, using the titles president, owner or chief executive officer interchangeably. As companies grow, titles hold more meaning, and these three titles can send significantly different messages about the holder’s role. Understanding how these three titles differ from each other will help you choose the right one for yourself or give one to a key employee.
When you’re the only person with equity in a business, you’re the owner. If you have a partner, you’re a co-owner. An investor who gets a percentage of profits, but not necessarily a share of the overall company, is not an owner. Owners often use this title if they are the top person in charge of the business. As the company grows and you add other key executives, you might need to take a more formal title, such as president or CEO. If you started the company, you are also the founder, and can use a dual title of founder and owner.
A president often serves as the public face of an organization, especially if there is more than one key executive running the company. When a company has a board of directors, the issue can become confusing. A board chairman might take the title of president if he holds the public spotlight, such as making speeches, writing articles and giving interviews on behalf of the business or nonprofit. If the organization’s management executive is the public face of the business, he might take the president title in addition to the CEO title.
The chief executive officer of a business is the ultimate person in charge of the strategic management of the organization, and oversees all other employees. If the company has a board of directors, the CEO answers to the board, which provides strategic guidance to the business, but not day-to-day management. At nonprofit organizations, the top businessperson often uses the title of executive director instead of CEO. A board chairman might also take the title if he’s heavily involved in running the business. If you turn most of the day-to-day management of your company over to a top executive while keeping the strategic management responsibilities for yourself, you might give your key executive the title of chief operating officer.
Whether you opt for the title of CEO vs. president or owner, or even "president and CEO," it’s important that you write a detailed job description for your position. This will help those you oversee understand your role and how they serve you. It will help a board of directors understand where their duties end and your responsibilities begin. During this process, you might find that you need to take a new title, create a new one for a key employee below you or change your relationship with your board of directors.