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The Chief Strategy Officer in the European Firm: Professionalising Strategy in Times of Uncertainty

May 9, 2013 • Corporate Governance, Global Business, LEADERSHIP, STRATEGY & MANAGEMENT

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The chief strategy officer (CSO) position has recently been gaining prominence in European firms. However, little is known about this new executive role. In this article, the authors report some of their findings from a major research program that involved two surveys of CSOs and give a portrayal of the CSO’s role in continental European firms. The article further highlights how CSOs deal with the current uncertainty and how they professionalise their firm’s strategy activities.

Many European firms have been faced with increasing uncertainty and complexity over the past few years. The recent financial and European debt crises, fast-paced industry change, increased competitiveness, changing customer needs, new technologies, and more complex organisational structures of multibusiness and multinational corporations, are but a few examples. Owing to these developments, the need for professional strategy development and execution is now greater than ever before. As a consequence, firms increasingly often opt for a chief strategy officer (CSO), a senior executive who heads a dedicated strategy or corporate development department, which may employ more than a hundred full-time strategists.1

We observed that the CSO position has recently become more prevalent in European firms and that there is a lack of knowledge on this new executive role. Therefore, the University of St. Gallen and Roland Berger Strategy Consultants initiated a major research program on the CSO’s role in 2011. Specifically, we conducted a survey with 90 CSOs of the 250 largest firms in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland in 2011, and another one with 54 CSOs from the same sample in 2012.2 In addition, we conducted interviews and hosted several roundtables with selected CSOs from major corporations such as Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Migros and Siemens.

The purpose of this article is to give a portrayal of the CSO’s role in continental European firms and to illustrate how they deal with the uncertainties that their firm’s currently face. Since there have been first efforts to understand the CSO’s role in US and UK firms, we point out the important similarities and differences between the contexts.3 We also highlight what is generally needed to strategise effectively in these difficult times. CSOs are on the rise and increasingly qualify as future CEOs. Our findings therefore not only inform current strategists, other executives and consultants, but also practitioners and students eager to learn about this new role as a career opportunity.



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