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Chief Digital Officer: Hot new tech title or flash in the pan?

Todd R. Weiss | July 30, 2013
Enterprises like Sears, Starbucks and Harvard are hiring Chief Digital Officers to help monetize digital content, better connect with customers and drive their businesses forward. But does every company need one?

CDOs by the numbers

According to estimates from CDO Club founder David Mathison, the top three kinds of companies hiring CDOs today are advertising agencies, publishers and broadcasters, while the biggest growth is being seen in the non-profit sector and state and local governments.

David Mathison

"When I started tracking this two years ago, there were 75 CDOs worldwide in major organizations," says Mathison, who curated the first-ever CDO Summit last February. "Today there are hundreds -- more than 300 at most recent count."

Mathison started tracking CDOs in August 2011 while working at the search firm Chadick Ellig, and he has continued his analysis via conversations and interviews with corporate executives and by reviewing hundreds of resumes and online profiles.

That research, plus data from CDO Club members, indicates that salaries for a Chief Digital Officer range from $89,000 to $600,000, depending on the business sector and location, with the median falling between $250,000 and $300,000, he says.

"A lot of company leaders really don't understand digital very well," observes Calkins Media CDO Guy Tasaka, who has more than two decades of experience in advertising, strategy and planning, circulation and marketing for media and startup companies. Tasaka, who reports to his company's CEO, says chief digital officers "should have the future vision in mind and not be constrained by the technical or architectural limitations of the current company."

He elaborates, "CIOs and CTOs don't look at the core business. They look at the technology for technology's sake." As the CDO, Tasaka says, "My responsibility is public-facing technology, the mobiles, the online and everything that we are doing going forward. I won't do anything unless there is a revenue strategy and a sustainable revenue model. My job is to separate what will help Calkins strategically from what is just a shiny object that's cool."

Forbes Media: Building audience, increasing revenue

Michael Smith joined the Forbes Media Group 13 years ago and became its first CDO in 2010 when a new CEO came in and wanted to drive the importance of digital content. Smith, whose background was as a CTO, took on the task of looking at technologies inside the company and how they could be used to better promote its digital content, specifically to grow online readership at

"As the CDO, I don't make technology decisions -- those are made throughout the organization," says Smith, who reports to the CEO and president of Forbes Media. "It's the CDO's job to support the adoption of these selections. The focus I have now is on revenue growth. It's far more of a business role."

By tracking new content management applications, online publishing systems and other digital innovations that can be used to create and deliver Forbes' digital content, Smith has been able to help grow the company's online audiences threefold since 2010, to more than 45 million unique users a month. "That's a dramatic increase in users," he says. "This stuff helps the company."


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