Hail To The Chiefs: New C-Suite Positions Reflect Changing Needs And Priorities Of Firms Today

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While every company likes to think of itself as agile and adaptable, significant structural change within organizations is often slow to unfold.

Take the C-suite, for example. For many firms, the standard roster of traditional roles – such as chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operations officer and chief information/technology officer – has remained largely static for decades, even under rapidly changing conditions.

Within other firms, however, those same shifts have been seen as a clear signal to shake things up by adding new leadership positions to the C-suite that reflect the changing nature of how business will be done in the years to come.

In most cases, these new roles represent not a completely novel foray into some unknown area, but rather an elevation of existing processes or initiatives to a level commensurate with their perceived importance going forward. Even so, the emphasis and visibility associated with a seat at the executive table sends an unmistakable message – that this is now an area that is just as important to the firm’s success as technology, finances and the other traditional roles represented in the C-suite.

Here are three positions that are starting to show up more frequently at that table.


“Innovation” tends to get inextricably tied together with “technology,” and often justifiably so – many key innovations do indeed derive from and/or employ new technologies in order to get things done more quickly or efficiently. But with innovation standing as one of the main pillars of the strategic plan at Princeton, N.J.-based IPA 100 firm Withum, then-MP and CEO Bill Hagaman and his team knew that success wasn’t simply about throwing technology at every problem or opportunity and calling it “innovation” – it was about having a collective mindset of innovation at every level throughout the firm. And that meant bringing in some help.

“We were doing good things but thought we could be doing more in terms of where we felt the firm needed to be in the next decade,” Hagaman said. “Innovation is going to be a critical component of that, so we thought it was the right time to bring in someone who gets up thinking about this stuff every day.”

Enter Molly Goins-Cox, who came on board as Withum’s first chief innovation officer in November of 2020 with experience transforming people, processes and technology as a Big 4 management consultant. She arrived at a firm where innovation was clearly a priority but was perhaps a bit too unfocused to achieve the expected impact. Thus, her mandate is to formalize innovation at Withum by introducing more structure and more discipline to the firm’s processes.

“I’m a process geek by nature,” she said. “It’s not just about coming in and innovating something – people have to understand how to incorporate innovation into everything they do. Given all of our strengths, I think a little more process and discipline will really be able to harness some of the innovation that already exists. We just want to formalize and accelerate what we already have in place.”

That means looking at processes, measurements, accountability, recognition – everything that Goins-Cox believes feeds into becoming a more innovative organization. As part of these efforts, Withum will be launching the Year of Innovation this summer, which will include firmwide training for leaders and team members, a formal recognition program tied to innovation and a platform to catalog and manage the ideas coming from the firm’s people.

“We want to give innovation more transparency and visibility within the organization so that everyone knows what it means and how it unfolds,” Goins-Cox added. “If you don’t have someone in this type of role, a lot of those potential innovations are probably not going to happen.”

Hagaman agreed, and he believes that by expanding its C-suite to include a focus on innovation, Withum is simply acknowledging the handwriting on the wall for the profession as a whole.

“This profession needs to innovate,” he said. “Whether we’re doing it or someone else is doing it, we need to prevent disruptors from entering the profession and making what we do antiquated. We all need to do it – we’re just trying to do our part.”


One of the most pressing issues facing firms of all shapes and sizes over the past decade has been the ability to recruit and retain top-quality talent, which has resulted in an even brighter spotlight on firms’ human resources professionals. It is a people business, after all, which is why firms have correspondingly made room in their C-suite for the HR function.

At Redwood City, Calif.-based IPA 100 firm Seiler LLP, realization of the critical role HR would continue to play in the years to come meant promoting HR director and 13-year firm veteran Lupita McLane to the new C-suite position of chief people officer in February of 2020. In her new role, McLane is responsible for driving the firm’s people management strategy, including talent planning and acquisition, professional development, diversity and inclusion initiatives, benefits and compensation, and more. She also advises senior executives, oversees employee engagement and relations, and provides oversight for the firm’s performance management procedures. While many of these are not new responsibilities for HR within the firm, McLane said the visibility of her new role brings more attention to HR as a core function at Seiler.

“Having a seat at the executive table is the big differentiator in this role, ensuring that our employees will always be top of mind when the executive team discusses strategy,” she explained. “The CPO is HR’s leader, contributing input on firm decisions about growth, organizational design, executive coaching, policies of change, improvement of efficiencies, and implementing learning and development programs. The goal is to help create a world-class culture where employees can be their authentic selves and do their best work.”

McLane views her promotion as proof that HR is more than simply an offshoot of Seiler’s mission and strategy – it is a key component in moving the firm forward.

“I believe a CPO is a business need no matter the size or complexity of an organization, providing strategic value in areas like leadership development, organizational planning and people analytics,” she said. “It helps that I report to a CEO who truly cares about our employees and an executive team that understands the importance of human capital to our business and are receptive to hear my perspectives from an HR standpoint.”


Few areas garnered more attention or gained more momentum over the course of 2020 within companies as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Fortunately for Chicago-based IPA 100 firm Crowe LLP, DEI initiatives were already deeply ingrained in the corporate culture. And when the firm decided to take those efforts a step further by adding a new chief diversity officer position to its C-suite, the right man for the job was already on staff.

“I think the firm recognized that we had some DEI infrastructure in place and some dedicated resources, but we didn’t really have anyone on the executive leadership team that was plugged in the way that I am,” said Chris Mitchell, a consulting principal in Crowe’s technology, media and telecommunications services group who became the first chief diversity officer in April of 2020 after six years with the firm.

“Having a leader and a champion out there who’s accountable and responsible for this 24/7 just solidifies that notion for the firm as a whole and points to how we can all move the needle together. This position also allows other leaders – both internal and external – to understand how important it is for us to get it right.”

Mitchell says that while Crowe was comfortable with many of its achievements on the DEI front, the firm knew it could do so much more if there was a dedicated leader at the executive level. The firm had and still has a firmwide leader for DEI who has kept pace with what’s been happening in the market and has built out Crowe’s internal infrastructure, but Mitchell says being able to team that person with a CDO – especially a Black man with more than 27 years in the corporate world and a variety of DEI initiatives under his belt – brings a little something different to the equation.

“Given the gravity of everything that’s been going on in the world recently, this was just a logical step for the firm,” he added. “It’s been on the radar well before all the events of the past year, but the timing was definitely right.”

Since assuming the CDO role, Mitchell’s main focus has been solidifying the firm’s DEI strategy and propelling some existing initiatives across the finish line. He says the firm remains focused on the goals and pillars that it has long held, but those goals have now grown. He believes that by identifying a CDO as an executive role within the organization, Crowe has shown that DEI is among its key initiatives.

“What we’ve always presented to the market is that we live our values and believe in our people,” Mitchell said. “Yes, we deliver great service and top-notch solutions, but at the end of the day our people come first. If we didn’t focus on DEI, it just wouldn’t make sense given who we are.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of INSIDE Public Accounting. To subscribe to INSIDE Public Accounting Monthly click here.


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