Michael Feuer: Why every company needs an additional type of COO — They march to a different drummer

We all know what traditional chief operating officers do and what characteristics typically make them tick. There is another type of COO that every company needs — whether they admit it or not — who shares the same initials as the former, but who has diametric responsibilities.

This person is a chief opportunity officer, although the title sometimes varies because the word opportunity conveys the wrong message to the less pragmatic.

The characteristics of this rare bird were probably honed when he or she was a small child. Most parents didn’t talk much about this offspring’s special traits outside the home.

 

High-energy personalities

We have all seen these kids in action. They have too much energy, are in perpetual motion and feel compelled to touch everything in sight.

They also ask questions and make statements that can shock or antagonize even the most understanding adult.

When they go off to school, they’re the ones who neglect to raise their hands when answering questions, but instead blurt out their responses. And most of the time they’re right, which tends to further aggravate teachers.

At their first job, they continue to be in constant motion, questioning everyone, everything and sometimes ignoring the chain of command. At the same time, however, they seem to discover previously unthought-of alternatives to thorny issues.

If they’re lucky, a more senior manager spots the hidden talents of this potential COO and begins instilling a little, much needed, discipline and tutoring on the realities of being politically correct to get things done.

In short order, this heretofore rogue player begins to climb the organizational ladder, scoring a series of meaningful and unique accomplishments. This garners heightened recognition and a reputation as someone who can think outside the box and isn’t afraid to take well-calculated risks.

 

Making waves comes easy

Many of these iconoclasts’ ideas seem at first blush to be prosaic — the idea so obvious and simple it leaves everyone in the organization scratching their heads asking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Other times, what initially seems to be an off-the-wall concept suddenly takes shape and emerges as a breakthrough.

We all know the names of innovators who have excelled and possessed the characteristics  described. Some are famous business rock stars, such as the legendary Steve Jobs of Apple or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Others are unknown hidden gems within the ranks of America’s most admired, successful companies.

Many times companies don’t parade them in public, due to the commotion they invariably cause — the same reasons their parents exposed them sparingly to outsiders.

This type of innovator devotes his or her energy to looking for low-hanging fruit, or that special something that can transform a business from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Their techniques are non-conventional and they frequently ruffle feathers. Usually for them to succeed, they must work in an organization that recognizes the fact that not everyone has to be cut from the same cloth.

Every once in a while, these one-time outcasts emerge as the leader of the enterprise with the letter “E” replacing the middle “O” in their earlier title. After that occurs, the newly minted CEO will deny to the death that he was ever the kid whose parents were reluctant to take anywhere.

 

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax in 1988, starting with one store and $20,000 of his own money. During a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide with annual sales of approximately $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in December 2003. In 2010, Feuer launched another retail concept, Max-Wellness, a first of its kind chain featuring more than 7,000 products for head-to-toe care. Feuer serves on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and building entrepreneurial enterprises. “The Benevolent Dictator,” a book by Feuer that chronicles his step-by-step strategy to build business and create wealth, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Reach him with comments at [email protected].

 

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