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A chief visionary officer (CVO) is an executive function in a company like CEO or COO. The title is sometimes used to formalize a high-level advisory position and other times used to define a higher ranking position than that held by the CEO. In some cases, the CVO is added to the CEO title (for CEO/CVO status), much in the same way that people with multiple university degrees list them after their names.
The CVO is expected to have a broad and comprehensive knowledge of all matters related to the business of the organization, as well as the vision required to steer its course into the future. The person in charge must have the core-competencies of every executive, and the visionary ideas to move the company forward, defining corporate strategies and working plans. The role has expanded to include formalizing the company's strategic-planning processes, forging new working relationships and synergies across the organization, and establishing greater transparency and accountability for those people carrying out the company's strategy.
Companies add CVOs (or consider doing so), sometimes interchangeable with CSO - Chief Strategy Officer, to their management teams for several reasons. Changes to the business landscape -- complex organizational structures, rapid globalization, new regulations, the struggle to innovate -- make it more difficult for CEOs to be on top of everything, even in areas as important as strategy execution and vision direction. Strategy development has become a continuous process, and successful execution depends on rapid and effective decision making. Further, as Harvard Business School professor Joseph L. Bower has noted, iron-fisted control of execution often eludes the top team's grasp, as line executives seek to define strategy on their own terms. (See Bower and Clark G. Gilbert's "How Managers' Everyday Decisions Create--or Destroy--Your Company's Strategy," February 2007.)
Einar Stefferud, co-founder and CVO of First Virtual Holdings in 1994, is usually recognized as the first CVO. Another early CVO was Tim Roberts of Broadband Investment Group. Roberts said he invented the title to recognize the visionary attributes needed to integrate a complex business with many diverse aspects. Roberts chose the title to define his role in the organization, and didn't intend the designation to proliferate across the corporate world in the way that it has.