Common in Industry – Still Not so Much in Academe’

By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA

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A Chief Strategy Officer [CSO], or chief strategist, is the senior  executive responsible for assisting the Chief Executive Officer [CEO] with developing, communicating, executing, and sustaining corporate strategic initiatives. Some companies give the title Chief Business Officer [CBO] to its’ senior executives who are holding the top strategy role.

My opinion in academia

A few decades ago, the role of university Chief Strategy Officer [CSO] did not exist or marginally existed as a mid-level project manager in the communications department. It may have consisted of a formal background in teaching and education exhibited by the BA and/or B.Ed degrees or HR certification.

A first generation didactic CSO 1.0; if you will.

Then, as academic competition and granularity increased along with new technology information exchange, the need for deeper subject matter expertise arose. Next – generation business, under/graduate LAs, HUMANITIES, modern culture, psychology / sociology and STEM expertise arose to create and explore new – real or perceived – strategic advantages for university public relations in the form of the M.Ed, MA or MBA degrees in marketing, advertising, sales or competitive analysis.

THINK: Michal Porter PhD, known for his theories on economics, business strategy, and social causes. He is the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School, and a social impact consultant. He is credited for creating Porter’s five forces analysis, which is instrumental in business strategy development today.

Also, consider traditional S.W.O.T analysis, as well. SWOT analysis (alternatively SWOT matrix) is an initialism for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—and is a structured planning method that evaluates those four elements of a project or business venture. A SWOT analysis can be carried out for a product, place, industry, university or person.

So, let’s call this a second generation expert CSO 2.0

However, as the complex business of running any college or university is ever changing, the ideal profile of CSO is still morphing to face modern business and management challenges like: physical and cyber security; culture and organizational behavior; gender differences, racial disparities and workplace violence issues; enrollment and international expansion; corporatization and competition; online and e-learning initiatives; with accounting, financial and economic pressures, etc.

Consequently, BODs are now seeking and embracing a new kind of CSO with advanced PhD or DBA degrees; and college and university experience. In fact, the role of contemporary CSO is emerging and becoming closer to that of an experienced corporate Chief Executive Officer, than the mere educator, academician or manager of the past.


Universities and colleges  today

Insightful academic search committees are now seeking a new type of modern CSO who can build university and college rankings, maintain relationships with stakeholders, and project a positive image as a “celebrity university”.

This means shepherding students and attracting qualified youth, and faculty, for matriculation as areas of particular importance. This new entrepreneurial CSO must focus on business management, economics and finance – operational, marketing, advertising and consultative sales strategies to attract a qualified, protean and diverse student / professional staff that sets it apart from the competition; as well as more meaningfully interacting within [research and development], and without the university [outreach].

Accordingly, this  modern CSO must be a combination and protean surrogate for the university  CEO / CFO / CMO / COO / CAO and leader – NOT just a teacher or manager – who will help run it like a matrix business unit that makes a profit to generate needed capital and ROI.

Multiple lines of business – tuition; certifications; worker-placement; grants and endowments; CEUs and non-degree program fees; as well as for-profit R&D, publications, patents, copyrights and trade-marks; and applied business incubators – must ALL be created and managed as a diversified portfolio. S/he must lead in the implementation, planning and operations of systemic community responsive programs, as well as policy interventions requiring advocacy, political action and public analysis.

I prefer the moniker – CSO 3.0


This academic CSO 3.0 must be a change-agent, crisis manager, corporate strategist, Machiavellian devotee and/or seasoned C-suite executive with the required inter – disciplinary skills outlined for this important position.

Above all – the modern CSO 3.0 must be pro-active, flexible and market responsive. This is not the place for tenure tracking.



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[Foreword Dr. Phillips MD JD MBA LLM] *** [Foreword Dr. Nash MD MBA FACP]  [Foreword Dr. Hashem MD PhD] *** [Foreword Dr. Silva MD MBA]


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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements.



9 Responses

  1. CSO

    As a life long educator – I found this essay interesting and correct. Until recently, this position did not exist and related things like succession planning were unheard of in academia.

    Still – the CSO can not be a crisis or change or project manager. S/he must be a senior executive and futurist. It is a tough job that is often made more difficult because of buy-in failure from the BOD. These folks are often clueless when it comes to industry, business management or related contemporary OB issues.

    Remember, it is far better to be proactive than retroactive.



  2. More CSO,

    If colleges and universities had to compete like public companies; many would not be in existence today.

    Good stuff!



  3. Clyde,

    AGREE – Look, public and private healthcare is a competitive business. Ditto for colleges & universities, today. But, both are professional callings, as well; and each requires their own delicate balance between a passionate moral mission and managerial strategic competition .

    But, what is the role of CSO in domestic higher education in 2019? And, how does an academic CSO delicately balance “moral mission and monetary margin”?

    Any thoughts?

    David E. Marcinko MBA


  4. Agee,

    Dr. Marcinko is correct. Remember “no margin – no mission.”
    The delicate balance continues …



  5. Modern University Challenges

    Traditional universities were one the most cost-effective methods of educating the masses; especially in the LAs and HUMANITIES.

    Yet today, they face significant growth challenges: the aging population and low student acquisition, retention and graduation with prolonged graduation rates; marginal and mandatory accreditation; faculty and staff recruitment, retention and advancement issues; student diversity, inclusion and workforce development problems; increasing cost and competition from the public and private sectors; stagnant worker wages; harassment and violence issues; and State and Federal governmental tuition subsidies with a predatory student loan, and acceptance, industry.

    THINK: recent college admissions scandal.

    Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA


  6. University CSO,

    Well said, Dr. Marcinko.



  7. Jeff,

    Many thanks for the above compliment.

    Now, throw in the rise of for-profit universities, online and adult education; MOOCS and MOODLES [free open-source learning management systems] along with a plethora of specious new-wave pedagogical theories like “new math”; mandatory State University acceptance from community college; the “flipped classroom”; behaviorism, cognitivism and the “common core” curriculum – and a near “perfect storm” is created against the static and de riguer system of the past three decades.

    Like medicine in 1910, an Abe Flexner styled strategic overhaul is needed to create a new, flexible and market responsive intellectual template for the modern university based system of education. This is the stuff of a modern college or university Chief Strategy Officer.

    Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA


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