What Does "C-Level Employees" Mean?

by David Sarokin ; Updated September 26, 2017
Businesspeople Having Informal Meeting In Modern Office

C-level employees are those in the top tier of a corporation, the men and women in executive suites. They make the most significant decisions regarding a company's direction and usually earn top dollar for doing so. The term is a fairly recent part of the business lexicon, and it wasn't that long ago that "C-level executive" could have a very different meaning.

C-Level Defined

C-level employees are company employees whose managerial title begins with the word "chief," a designation indicating the company's highest-level executives. C-level titles typically end with the word "officer." C-level executives have the greatest overall responsibility for running a company and typically oversee most of its employees.

Common C-Level Titles

The chief executive officer of a company is the most widely used C-level title, used to refer to the senior executive who runs the company. Other common C-level executives include the chief financial officer and the chief operations officer. Technology-oriented companies often have a chief information officer or a chief technology officer as a member of the C-level executive team.

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Other C-Level Titles

Companies may designate other senior executives as C-level employees, including a chief human resources officer, chief accounting officer and chief sales officer. Companies with specialized needs or services may designate an appropriate C-level executive, such as a chief risk management officer or chief supply chain officer.


The business community began to use "C-level" as a common term around 2000. Before that, the term did not have a universally understood meaning. As recently as 1999, for example, Ford Motor Co. used the phrase "C-level executives" as a reference to senior executives who scored poorly on an internal evaluation, as opposed to A-level and B-level executives with higher scores.

About the Author

David Sarokin is a well-known specialist on Internet research. He has been profiled in the "New York Times," the "Washington Post" and in numerous online publications. Based in Washington D.C., he splits his time between several research services, writing content and his work as an environmental specialist with the federal government. David is the author of Missed Information (MIT Press, 2016), a book exploring how better information can lead to a more sustainable future.

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