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The Average Salary of a COO in 2021

How much do you need to pay a chief operating officer to join your company? The salary of a COO in 2021 depends on a number of business factors, including (but not limited to):

  • The size of your company
  • Where your company is located
  • Whether you run a private or public firm
  • The overall compensation bonuses and benefits you’re willing to offer in addition to the salary

COO compensation should also factor in what phase your business is in and what you’re trying to accomplish. For instance, if you’re planning to roll out a new product, you may want a COO with significant production and marketing experience. If you’re just looking for someone to succeed the CEO, on the other hand, you can afford to take on someone with less experience. It’s important to consider:

  1. What a successful COO looks like for your business
  2. Factor that into the salary offer
  3. Average salaries and compensation packages, especially within your industry

Below is an overview of average COO salary and compensation packages offered in 2021 for private and public companies. These numbers can help your business stay competitive and attract top candidates for the chief operating officer role. 

Average COO Salary: Public Companies

The average COO salary is $446,150 for public companies, according to the latest data. Bonuses for the position average an additional $166,802 and benefits are another $137,793.

This brings the average compensation package for a public company COO to $750,745. Of course, when looking at this number it’s important to factor in your location, candidate experience, education level, and more. 

Check out CEO vs COO vs CFO Salary Averages Here

By adjusting a few factors such as location and college degree, you can either increase the overall compensation amount or reduce it.

Example: The median salary of a COO based in San Francisco, California is $557,687 whereas the median salary of a COO based in Raleigh, North Carolina is only $431,739. The rate is different because the cost of living is much higher in San Francisco than in Raleigh, so your COO needs to be compensated accordingly.

Education and experience are also significant factors in total salary and compensation.

Example: If your company can’t afford a $400,000 salary, you should look at candidates with a bachelor’s degree and fewer years of experience. The cost difference between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree is roughly $8,000, and the gap between one year of experience versus five is another $10,000 to $12,000. 

Average COO Salary: Private Companies

Private companies are significantly smaller than public companies, so their compensation range is a lot more modest compared to public salaries. According to the Chief Executive Group, the average compensation package of a COO in a private company is $223,500.

This includes the base salary and bonuses. If the bonus makes up 22 percent of the compensation package, then the average base salary for a private company COO would be $174,330. Again, the final salary really depends on the overall size of the private company as well as the location and candidate qualifications.

Executive leadership is a serious role within your business and to attract the best talent you need to offer competitive compensation. Knowing the average COO salary for a private versus a public company gives you a reference point when calculating COO compensation for your business. Remember, the COO is often considered the right-hand man of the CEO, so don’t undervalue this position as you develop the COO compensation package. 

Top 20 COO Interview Questions

Cowen Partners is a national executive search firm and has put together the Top 20 COO interview questions to help you select a qualified COO. If you need help finding qualified Chief Operating Officer candidates, please contact us. 

  1. Do they understand the job opportunity and what the company does?
  2. Are they asking intelligent questions about the job and the job opportunity?
  3. What appeals to them about this particular opportunity and what do they bring to table?
  4. What is their reason for considering a new opportunity?
  5. What are their reasons for movement over the last several years?
  6. Specifically, what made them leave each position and move to the next one?
  7. Does the candidate have good tenure in each of their last few positions?
  8. Have they progressed nicely in their career into higher level roles?
  9. Do they communicate extremely well?
  10. Do they make you pull questions out of them or do they explain their ideas fully, take cues from you, listen at the right time and speak at the right time?
  11. Is it easy to understand what they are saying, and do they make sense when they are talking to you without you having to put effort into understanding them?
  12. Situational questions specific to your opportunity
  13. Have they been at companies that are the same size or larger than the current opportunity you are presenting to them?
  14. Do they meet all requirements on the job description? Ask them which areas they are stronger in and which areas they are weaker in and then ask for specific examples of their experience.
  15. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  16. How have they contributed to the bottom-line growth in previous companies? Specifically, what steps were taken to increase annual revenues?  Improve EBITDA?  Add locations?
  17. Have they managed a group of people about the same size or larger?
  18. Do they like to understand the details behind every process or are they a higher-level manager who likes to manage from a distance relying upon their staff? How do they stay sharp and up to date if others are completing tasks for them?
  19. Are they proactive in their execution? Do they constantly look for new ways of doing things, increasing efficiencies, cutting costs and producing more, etc.  What new ideas will they bring to the table?
  20. How do they build relationships with other team members, investors, employees, board members and is there a difference in how you interact?

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What Makes a Great Chief Operating Officer

Everyone knows the major role a CEO plays in a company, but fewer people understand the significance of a COO. A chief operating officer is typically in charge of the daily operations of a company, and the duties required of this role can vary widely between businesses. The COO role is often:

  • The right hand of the CEO
  • Key to overseeing everyday management tasks, so the CEO does not have to

With the general operation details designated to a COO, the CEO has more time to dedicate to big-picture aspects of the business, like long-term strategy and efficiency solutions.

The COO can be a vital role to any company but what exactly makes a great COO? The various roles played by a COO are so numerous and ever changing that companies need to find a true chameleon to fill the position.

If you’re hiring for a COO, you’ll likely be looking for a candidate with a unique set of skills that set this leader apart from the rest of the group. Below are a set of attributes you can find in an excellent COO and ones you should look for when interviewing for the role in your own company.

Adaptable

The role of a COO is often changing and evolving as the business ebbs and flows, which is why a top COO needs to know how to adapt to various situations and strategies. The COO can also play a variety of roles within a company, including (but not limited to):

  • Overseeing the execution of the business strategy
  • Managing a major organizational change
  • Complementing the skills and experience of the CEO

Whatever role the COO is initially brought in to play in your company, the ability to adapt to new responsibilities and situations will be a major benefit.

Detail-Oriented

A COO needs to handle the day-to-day operations of a business, but they also need to understand how those small details impact the larger business strategy. Attention to detail is one characteristic that will help a COO keep everyone on-task and inline with company deadlines.

People who are less detail-oriented might understand the big picture of your company but will have a harder time keeping all of the plates spinning as the finer details of running a business are lost.

Team Player

A great COO understands running a business is a team effort. In most cases, the COO is not only working closely with the CEO but is also managing heads of various departments and regularly checking in with various teams to ensure production is running smoothly. A true team player COO will:

  • Smoothly work alongside the company CEO, complementing his/her work style and skillset
  • Understand the value of credit and praise to other managers, supervisors, and teams within the company

A COO who can acknowledge the hard work others put into the company will be able to build employee loyalty and increase employee satisfaction.

Data-Driven

Every company needs at least one person in the C-suite to be a data-driven leader. It’s too easy for people to get carried away by “instinct” or a “gut feeling.” For a business to be really successful, decisions need to be based on data-driven information proving which choice is the best option.

A COO with a data-driven mindset is the voice of reason when board members are trying to push an initiative based on business politics or mere hunches. By requesting data-backed evidence for a proposal, a great COO can redirect a company’s investments toward more worth-while projects.

Resilient

A COO role isn’t for the faint of heart. This position is second in command of the company and will require a strong leader to successfully manage the job. Business deals, strategies, partnerships, and various other aspects of business do not always go smoothly. When the company hits a bump in the road, you need a leader who can navigate the situation with professionalism and start looking for solutions to the problem. A top COO will be able to face difficult situations and quickly recover from any setbacks or failures the company experiences.

Demand for capable COOs is growing as the role of the CEO becomes more and more complex. Companies need someone who can balance out the CEO position by bringing a wider skill set to the table and lightening the responsibility of upper-level management. The value of the position should not be underestimated, and if you’re looking to add a position to the c-suite of your company, a COO role is an excellent option.

National COO Recruiters | Cowen Partners Executive Search

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COO Executive Search Firm

At Cowen Partners, our experienced, award-winning COO recruiters have deep experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients, who are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion, span all industries, including technologyhealthcaremanufacturingretailreal estatefinancial serviceprivate equity, and more.

Successful COO placements span positions, companies, and industries across the nation, as well as positions throughout the C-Suite, including (but not limited to) CEOs, CHROsCFOs, CMOsCLOs and general counselvice presidents, and other director-level leadership roles.

Cowen Partners is a proud leader among the nation’s best COO executive search firms, enabling companies to harness the power of human capital to fuel their success. In fact, we give our clients access to the top 1% of human capital to create opportunities that accelerate their growth and market share. With Cowen Partners, clients can grow at scale, create value, and drive results with world-class talent.

Check out our industry-leading resources, created by our top COO recruiters, to see why Cowen Partners is one of the best retained executive search firms in Dallas, Los Angeles, AnchorageNew York CityChicagoSeattle, Atlanta, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and beyond:

Cowen Partners Executive Search provides recruitment services to all major and minor industries including:

Accounting, Advertising, Aerospace & Defense, Biotechnology, Banking, Credit Unions, Board and CEO Services, Computer Hardware, Construction, Consulting, Consumer Products, Computer Software and Hardware, Education, Energy & Utilities, Entertainment & SportsFinanceFinancial Services, Food Products, Government, Human ResourcesHealth Care, Hospitality & Tourism, Insurance, Industrial, Internet & New Media, Legal, Tax, Crypto, Bitcoin, Private Equity, Journalism & Publishing, MarketingManufacturing, Medical Device, Non-Profit, Pharmaceutical, Private EquityReal Estate, Retail & Apparel, SalesTechnology, Telecommunications and Transportation.

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