Chief impact officers explained—why some companies are adding the position (2023)

At a recent marketing conference, IBM’s first-ever chief impact officer Justina Nixon-Saintil addressed the fact that companies are reportedly dropping their DEI roles.

Companies need to “step up,” Nixon-Saintilsaid at the Association of National Advertisers' Brands of Impact conference in March. Part of this entails understanding what “real commitments we need to make under the S, like we did for the E,” she said, speaking of ESG, which stands for environmental, social and governance.

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For companies such as IBM, boosting these efforts includes adding the chief impact officer as a new role—Nixon-Saintilwas just appointed to the position in January. Shedescribed the role as focused on “leading the strategic initiatives across the business that really focus on having a positive societal impact.”

Chief impact officers explained—why some companies are adding the position (1)

Justina Nixon-SaintilisIBM’s first-ever chief impact officer.

Credit:Justina Nixon-Saintil

Other brands that have filled the role in the past few years include McDonald’s, cosmetics brand Beautycounter, Unilever’s Seventh Generation and multivitamin brand Ritual.

In her role, Nixon-Saintil, who holds a VP title, reports to Jonathan Adashek, IBM’s chief communications officer and senior VP of marketing, who reports to IBM's CEO. “There are three hats I wear at IBM,” Nixon-Saintil said—creating community initiatives related to sustainability and education; leading the company’s response to evolving ESG regulation; and leading a team to communicate and market the corporation’s social impact.

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A chief impact officer’s job description can vary widely between companies or industries, with responsibilities ranging from sustainability and lobbying to marketing and DEI efforts, said Robb Henzi, senior VP of strategy and head of policy and philanthropy consulting at Omnicom culture consultancy Sparks & Honey.

This wide focus means companies run the risk of having the chief impact officer title becoming “a bit of a figurehead role to house a bunch of things that organizations think are important,” he said.

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The role isn’t limited to brands. IPG-owned agency Weber Shandwick named former McCann Chief Creative Officer Sung Chang as its chief impact officer in 2020, with a focus on creating relationships to help give client campaigns the widest impact.

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Questions remain about the future of the role. “I think it’s a fad,” said Lisa Mann, chief marketing officer and managing director at executive search firm Raines International Inc.The role seems like a response to criticism around how a company has handled diversity and ESG efforts, or a company's reaction to “feeling like they're not getting credit for (existing) work,”she said.

“Some companies are trying to use this role to say that they are focusing on ESG, and I don’t think that needs to be done that way,” she said, adding that “what it’s missing is the associated scorecard” that measures the success of the role and accounts for factors such as where its funding comes from.

Below, a look at why some companies added the role and how their chief impact officers are approaching the job.

Seventh Generation: ‘More weight and more importance’

Chief impact officers explained—why some companies are adding the position (2)

Ashley Orgain was named Seventh Generation'schief impact officer in April 2022.

Credit:Seventh Generation

Cleaning products brand Seventh Generation named Ashley Orgain as its first chief impact officer last April. Orgain, previously global director of advocacy and sustainability, described the creation of the role as spurred by “a need to level up a bit more of the social impact side,” rather than just sustainability.

While the “scope is somewhat similar” to her previous role, this new title has “more weight and more importance” because it focuses on creating and executing strategy, said Orgain.

The position primarily focuses on launching initiatives and lobbying related to Seventh Generation’s eco-friendly brand messaging. Part of this involves marketing the brand’s sustainability efforts, such as an upcoming campaign that focuses “educating, inspiring and activating conscious consumers,” which “will only happen if we have solid communications and a robust plan to tell that story,” said Orgain.

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“Of all the members on the leadership team, the CMO and I work most closely,” said Orgain. “I’m influencing how he’s prioritizing his goals and objectives this year,” she said, referring to Seventh Generation’s John Moorhead.

Because Seventh Generation is a Unilever subsidiary, Orgain wants to see its sustainability solutions “scale(d) within our parent company,” such as “sustainability goals that were inspired by Seventh Generation.”

McDonald’s: ‘Position the company right’

Chief impact officers explained—why some companies are adding the position (3)

Jon Banner recently took over as McDonald's global chief impact officer.


McDonald’s in August announced that it was hiring former PepsiCo Executive VP of Communications Jon Banner as its global chief impact officer. The role—and the global impact team that it oversees—was created in October 2020, as DEI job postings increased by 55% after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent demonstrations for racial justice. It was previously occupied by Katie Fallon, now executive VP of corporate affairs at Fidelity Investments.

“At a time of great global complexity, there is an increasing expectation on companies to play a leading role. We welcome that challenge and are raising our ambitions,” McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinskisaid in a statement in 2020, when the world's largest restaurant company announced the creation of its impact team. “Our ability to make an impact in the world will be deeply strengthened by bringing together expertise from across our organization to create a function that is focused on purpose and guided by our values.”

As head of the global impact team, Banner oversees the company’s communications, government relations and public policy, sustainability and social initiatives and social giving. The team encompasses roles including the president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities, a global chief communications officer and a chief sustainability and social impact officer.

The team was expanded in April to be “mirrored in markets,” said a representative over email. That includes the addition of a chief impact officer for North America and a senior director impact lead of international developmental licensee markets as well as an international chief impact officer, who has not yet been hired. Banner described his role as “setting the agenda and strategy” as well as working with the senior executive team and the board.

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“I have to try to spread the love” across various focuses given the role’s broad scope, said Banner. In particular, when he started “we saw some need” on government relations and policy in the EU and the U.S., he said.

When it comes to marketing, Banner said that the team is only responsible for campaigns related to “pushing our policy agenda, protecting our business model.” These campaigns have a “much lower budget,” he said.The role also entails “working closely with HR on internal communications,” said Banner, such as how the company handled recent layoffs.

“There’s not a lot of chief impact officers around, there are chief corporate affairs officers that have the same duties” such as at Walmart, said Banner. Bringing a team around a chief impact officer made more sense to “position the company right,” he said.

“Traditional Corporate Affairs scopes don’t necessarily encompass Sustainability & ESG, Policy and Philanthropy (RMHC) alongside Communications,” a McDonald’s representative said via email. “McDonald’s Global Impact does. The design of the Global Impact function positions us to go from storytelling to story-doing.”

Ritual: ‘Larger scope’

Chief impact officers explained—why some companies are adding the position (4)

Ritual Chief Impact Officer Lindsay Dahl


Multivitamin company Ritual hired Lindsay Dahl in the newly created role of chief impact officer in March 2022.Dahl was previously senior VP of mission at cosmetics brand Beautycounter, which created its own chief impact officer role in August.

Although Dahl’s role focuses on sustainability, Katerina Schneider, Ritual's founder, “knew she wanted the scope to be larger than” chief sustainability officerwhen creating the position, said Dahl.

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At Ritual, therole focuses on overseeing sustainability, advocacy and the brand’s traceable supply chain. This has included policy work such as sending a letter to Congress in March about dietary supplement regulations, building the company’s sustainability program around ingredients, packaging and climate change, as well as its certification strategy, including prioritizing where it needs to be certified such as having its products become non-GMO certified, Dahl said.

The role includes working with the marketing team every day, said Dahl. “I’m most involved at the beginning and the end of the (marketing) process,” from deciding what story to tell to checking everything is accurate at the end, she said.

Her role doesn’t focus on diversity and inclusion, which Dahl attributes to the fact that Ritual already had a DEI team. “We already had the team set up, so the question was, why move it?” she said. She added that “while sustainability work always has an intersection with social justice, my background and training is not in DEI.”

Dahl plans to amp up the brand’s lobbying efforts and communications with the new Congress, as well as continue to outline the brand’s traceability initiative for its supply chain.

Beautycounter: ‘Embedding our mission’

Chief impact officers explained—why some companies are adding the position (5)

Jen Lee, chief impact officer at cosmetics company Beautycounter


Beautycounter appointed Jen Lee as its first chief impact officer in August to meet growing consumer demand for broader corporate responsibility initiatives. Lee was previously the brand’s senior VP of supply chain.

Lee focuses on overseeing product safety, as well as the brand’s sustainability and advocacy initiatives. “When we see sustainability, we think of waste reduction, but I think our consumers demand that we’re looking at general responsibility as a whole,” she said, such as a company’s charitable giving or safety standards, which don’t fall under sustainability.

Given the role’s broad scope and her background in manufacturing and supply chains, Lee is focusing on addressing the company’s so-called Scope 3 emissions, which are the greenhouse gases from an organization’s supply chain that are trickier to measure and reduce.

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“What I think is valuable about my role is I’m sitting on the executive team embedding our mission” throughout the organization, whereas “usually it would be a department inside an executive’s team,” said Lee. This includes being “part of all non-mission activities,” such as financial discussions.

Lee works with the CMO on a “rolling” basis, including “continuously briefing our marketing team” about any initiatives or awards her team is working on. This has included publicizing the company’s work on government regulation such as the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act (MoCRA) in December, she said, which intends to give the FDA more authority to regulate cosmetics such as giving it the ability to issue a mandatory recall if it deems a product unsafe.

To encourage employee participation beyond the leadership team, she runs a “mission power hour” which provides training for associates on topics such as lobbying, personal sustainability and the company’s carbon net zero goal.

Lee noted that the company plans to focus more on social governance including diversity and inclusion, responsible sourcing and continuing its corporate giving strategy.

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Why your company needs a chief impact officer? ›

One major responsibility of the CIO is measuring and communicating the company's impact. Some other specific responsibilities of this role include: Identifying the positive impact the company seeks to have and the strategies necessary to achieve them. Tracking impact metrics to guide decision-making.

What are the responsibilities of a chief impact officer? ›

Collaborate with members of the executive management team and other organizational leaders to identify and implement appropriate operational strategies. Ensure all organizational activities and operations are carried out in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations.

At what point does a company need a COO? ›

If you're too busy making sure your business stays afloat, consider hiring a COO. A chief operating officer can take control of the daily workings of your company, giving you more time to analyze where your business is going and how you can help it get there. You can't expect the CEO of a company to do everything.

What type of manager is a chief impact officer? ›

A transformational leader, the Chief Impact Officer will draw upon leadership experience in a grantmaking capacity to grow the organization's existing program areas while simultaneously identifying new areas of impact.

What is COO role hierarchy? ›

A COO – or Chief Operations Officer, reporting to the CEO – is the second-top ranking individual and is in charge of implementing and overseeing the day-to-day operations, processes and strategies towards the overall mission and vision of the company. These two roles are at the top of a company's hierarchy.

What is the nature and role of a chief strategy officer CSO? ›

A chief strategy officer (CSO) is a C-level executive charged with helping to formulate, facilitate and communicate an organization's strategic initiatives and future goals.

How much less should a COO make than a CEO? ›

Average Executive Compensation: CEO vs COO vs CFO Salary Amounts (& More)
Executive RoleAverage Salary
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)$754,713
Chief Operating Officer (COO)$457,468
Chief Financial Officer (CFO)$363,559
Chief Legal Officer (CLO)$333,980
6 more rows
Mar 4, 2020

What percentage of a company does a COO own? ›

Non-co-founder COOs (i.e. those hired at a later date) typically receive between 1 percent and 5 percent in business equity. Higher equity percentages are usually reserved for COOs who bring a lot to the table.

How high up is a COO in a company? ›

The chief operating officer (COO) of a company is second in command, reporting to the chief executive officer (CEO). While a CEO is concerned with long-term business goals, the COO is focused more on implementing company strategies into daily operations to meet objectives.

Is COO top-level management? ›

The chief operating officer (COO) is a senior executive tasked with overseeing the day-to-day administrative and operational functions of a business. The COO typically reports directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) and is considered to be second in the chain of command.

Is COO a strategic role? ›

Role of the Chief Operating Officer: An Overview

Whereas the CEO is more concerned with big picture elements, like the business's overarching goals and strategy, the COO typically oversees internal, daily operations. This includes ensuring that the company's operations support the CEO's vision and strategy.

Is COO higher than managing director? ›

The COO role is not as well defined legally as managing director and the two roles may coexist with the COO having a higher level of oversight. The CEO role is distinct from the COO.

What are the two types of COO? ›

Here are eights types of COOs you might evolve into:
  • The executor. A COO who takes on an executor role is primarily responsible for implementing the top management team's strategies. ...
  • The change agent. ...
  • The mentor. ...
  • The MVP. ...
  • The CEO foil. ...
  • The partner COO. ...
  • The heir apparent. ...
  • The hybrid COO.
Mar 3, 2023

Who is higher than a COO? ›

The CEO is the highest-ranking manager in an organization, while the COO comes second in the corporate chain of command. The CEO focuses on long-term strategy, oversees the overall business operations, and reports to the board of directors.

Is the COO more powerful than the CFO? ›

Who ranks higher: COO or CFO? The positions of COO and CFO are comparable in seniority as both are managerial positions that report directly to the CEO. Both COO and CFO may also be known as a senior vice president.

Why do we need chief people officer? ›

Importance of Chief People Officers

Chief people officers are vital to a company maintaining its operations and reputation. They foster a positive company reputation by working with the CEO and other company leaders to develop wellness initiatives, rollout employee benefits and maintain hiring strategies.

Why you need a chief innovation officer? ›

A chief innovation officer is the executive who oversees innovation at the company. When companies lack a CIO, there may be multiple teams across various departments that are charged with developing innovative new initiatives, strategies and products.

Why is chief information officer important? ›

A CIO oversees the management and implementation of information and computer technologies to deliver desired business outcomes. In companies where technology is core to the business, this position is crucial for driving strategic, technical, and management initiatives to achieve business growth.

Why is chief strategy officer important? ›

Establish and reviewing key strategic priorities and translating them into a comprehensive strategic plan, and monitor the execution of the strategic plan. Facilitate and driving key strategic initiatives through inception phases. Actively support the CEO and BoD on strategic initiatives and inorganic investments.


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