Could Your Next CEO Come from a Chief Digital Officer Executive Search?

The rise of the Chief Digital Officer executive search has been of deep interest to us for some time now. The news that more and more companies are choosing CDOs to become their overall heads of business is a fascinating trend, and one we hope to see continue. Certainly, talent brought to you by Chief Digital Officer recruiters would be well-poised to eventually be a CEO — and it’s good that more businesses are realizing this now. If you don’t already have a dedicated head of digital for your business, it’s probably time to consider getting one. And if you do have one… well, it might be wise to make good friends with them, since they could be your boss sometime in the near future.

Companies promoted at least eleven Chief Digital Officers (CDOs) to CEO last year. It marks the third straight year an increased amount of CDOs rose to the top of their organization. As Chief Digital Officer recruiters, we expect this trend to continue to rise.

David Mathison, CEO of the CDO Club and CDO Summit, shared those numbers with CMSWire after NIKE Inc. promoted Adam Sussman from Director of Global Strategy and Development to the newly created position of CDO.

Watch Mathison Explain the 3 Roles CDO’s Must Play to Succeed in Any Industry

Video by David Mathison

Chalk it up to digital transformation: NIKE, for example, expects e-commerce to generate $7 billion of the $50 billion in revenue it anticipates by fiscal 2020. Sussman will lead the elite team of top marketers responsible for the development of digital products and services across various digital properties and brand platforms.

A Trend Supported By Stats

Mathison reported the number of Chief Digital Officers globally now stands at about 2,000, including “hybrid” titles bridging the marketing and IT functions. Emphasizing the strategic value of the CDO role, he said the most startling statistic this year is the rise of the CDO to CEO. According to the CDO Club numbers:

  • 2015: 11 CDOs became CEO and five CDOs became board directors/non-executive director (NED)
  • 2014: Nine CDOs became CEO and four became director/NED
  • 2013: Six CDOs became CEO and four became director/NED
  • 2012: Three CDOs became CEO and one became NED/Director

Understanding the Growth in Chief Digital Officer Executive Search and Openings

Mathison, in an interview with CMSWire, said Nike’s decision to hire a CDO comes on the heels of similar moves by companies including American Apparel, American Eagle Outfitters, Beachbody, Bebe Stores, Benetton, Burberry, Haggar Clothing Co., Kohls, Luxottica, L’Oréal, Mens Wearhouse, New Balance and Under Armour.

CDOs are popping up in sports, too: Mathison cited the NFL, NBA, Tennis Australia and WWE.

“Are we about to witness the gamification of Nike’s global digital program?” Mathison asked. “Possibly, given Adam’s incredibly strong gaming background as SVP of global publishing at Zynga, SVP of publishing at Disney and VP of global publishing at EA.”

Mathison said he was not surprised to see Sussman report to the president of Nike.

“This is the norm for any successful CDO, who has to get buy-in from the top and drive consensus across the C-suite,” Mathison said.