Want to Make It to the C-Suite? 5 Graduate Degrees to Consider

Want to Make It to the C-Suite? 5 Graduate Degrees to Consider

Want to Make It to the C-Suite? 5 Graduate Degrees to Consider banner

Do you dream of visiting, if not occupying, the ‘C-Suite,’ where the executives who run the company sit and meet? Rising to executive roles of CEO, COO, and CFO generally requires that you get an advanced degree, usually a Master of Business Administration (MBA). If your career trajectory is aimed at occupying one of the C-suite offices, your first step should be to consider an MBA or other master’s degree in business.

Who’s in the C-suite?

C-suite executives are corporate leaders who make the critical operations, human resources, marketing, IT, financial, and other decisions for a company. These top executives might arrive at the executive level from a number of career paths. Some work their way up through the ranks within a particular organization, while others may transfer from other businesses or industries. Either way, it’s rare for a CEO to not hold an advanced degree.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary of a top executive is $100,090. However, that number varies dramatically depending on the size of the company, the person’s experience, and the compensation package they are able to negotiate. Many top executives are also awarded bonuses and stock options for meeting company goals.

So, who are those people working in the C-suite? Below are a few C-suite positions and insight on how to get there.

CEO, Chief Executive Officer

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a company oversees the company’s operations. Depending on the company, this could be manufacturing, sales, marketing or, most likely, all of the above. The CEO is generally the top executive of the company and reports to the Board of Directors and (indirectly) the company’s shareholders. The CEO is often the ‘face’ of the company, appearing on television, in advertisements, and quoted in newspapers and magazines.

COO, Chief Operating Officer

In some organizations, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) may be synonymous with the CEO title. However, when the two positions are separate, the roles of a COO may vary widely depending on the organization. Traditionally, the COO often oversees the administrative and operational functions of the business, and complements the CEO’s position. Where an organization has both a CEO and a COO, , the COO typically reports to the CEO.

CFO, Chief Financial Officer

The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a company is responsible for managing the business’s finances. This leader is usually the third in command behind the CEO and COO. Indeed.com defines the CFO’s job duties as ‘monitoring cash flow, meeting with the CEO to discuss the best practices for company finances and coming up with strategic plans to improve their company’s overall financial health.’ In publicly-held companies, the CFO is also ultimately responsible for making sure that SEC filings are made correctly and on time, as well as preparing the annual budget and shareholder’s report.

CTO, Chief Technology Officer

The Chief Technology Officer is charged with all things that are IT-related. Depending on the company, this could range from ensuring the automated manufacturing lines are efficient and up-to-date, to ensuring the company has the computer, software, and security technology needed to succeed in the marketplace. The CTO is also in charge of a company’s research and development.

CKO, Chief Knowledge Officer

A Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) is charged with disseminating important company information and knowledge to employees. The CKO also oversees the use of a company’s intellectual property. This might include overseeing patent applications, creating internal training programs, and promoting innovative research. However, not all companies have a CKO.

CMO, Chief Marketing Officer

The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) oversees the company’s overall sales, advertising, and promotion strategy. These C-suite professionals oversee the company’s marketing of its products to the marketplace. According to Indeed.com, the CMO’s duties include ‘developing the structure of the business’s marketing department, approving marketing campaign ideas and coordinating marketing efforts with the company’s financial and branding goals.’

CHRO, Chief Human Resources Officer

The Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) sets personnel policies, guidelines, and procedures. The CHRO oversees the human resources department’s recruiting and hiring initiatives, talent management, and compensation areas. . They might also get involved in planning for the succession of a privately-held company.

Graduate Degrees to Get You to the C-Suite

The vast majority of C-level executives have earned advanced degrees, many of them MBAs. Here are a few of the best degrees to consider pursuing as you strengthen your career trajectory towards these valued leadership positions.


A general Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree helps you develop critical thinking and analysis skills through a business administration lens to solve high-level problems and manage a high-level team of professionals. A general MBA degree is flexible and gives you the ability to pursue a career path to a variety of executive and C-level positions.

MBA – Finance

An MBA in Finance prepares students for a CFO career path. Students in this program learn to apply knowledge of financial theories and practices to solve organizational and consumer economic challenges.

MBA – Accounting

Pursuing your MBA in Accounting may also serve as another pathway to becoming a chief financial officer (CFO). Students in this program learn advanced accounting principles and techniques while exploring business concepts in management, ethics, and law — all essential concepts for a corporate executive.

MBA – Organizational Leadership

An MBA in Organizational Leadership focuses on the skills needed to effectively manage teams of people, often across departmental lines. This is great preparation for any of the C-level positions, especially the COO and CEO roles. At Johnson & Wales University, students in the MBA – Organizational Leadership degree program ‘obtain the necessary skills to solve problems and manage operations in the modern business world with best practices backed by academic theory.’

MBA – Human Resource Management

As the name implies, an MBA degree with a concentration in human resource management may be the right program for you if you hope to hold the CHRO position. Students in this degree program dive deeper into the realm of retention, organizational behavior, and other aspects of employee relations.

MBA – Marketing

Interested in becoming a chief marketing officer (CMO)? You may consider earning your MBA in Marketing to build upon foundational marketing knowledge. Johnson & Wales University’s MBA in Marketing provides students with knowledge about marketing strategy, brand management, leadership, and more.

Earning your MBA at Johnson & Wales University

Johnson & Wales University offers both one-year and two-year MBA degree programs. Both options may be completed either online.

Both the one-year MBA and two-year MBA programs include key core classes with a 15:1 student-to-instructor ratio. Professors at JWU come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including business professionals who have themselves occupied the C suite. The programs explore executive business competencies, professional leadership and strategic and creative thinking skills, giving students the skills and information they need to pursue a variety of career paths.

Earning an online degree offers a number of benefits, especially for busy MBA students. You can do your coursework and listen to your lectures on your time, on your schedule.

Johnson & Wales University prepares students with the skills and experience employers are looking for, and that is why 95.4% of students have a successful career outcome within six months of graduating. Our Career Outcomes rate is historically higher than the national average. Visit the JWU Student Consumer Information page for an explanation of the career outcomes rate and other information. In addition, the university provides placement services to help match students with meaningful careers that match a student’s career goals and career trajectory.


Johnson & Wales University offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs in more than 50 fields of study. Founded in 1914, Johnson & Wales has a current enrollment of around 8,000 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. The university is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. Financial aid is available for qualified students.

For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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