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Regal titles

I can remember my introduction to fancy work titles. I was in the company underground garage with the chairman. I saw a nice-looking Aston Martin and asked him whose it was. “Our new CFO’s.” he said, “He was Bjorn Borg’s accountant.”

“What, he bankrupted Bjorn Borg?” I answered. Who was this dude?

Well, obviously, he was our new chief financial officer, and from then on, directors’ titles have been given ever-more fancy names and accompanying abbreviations, to the extent that nowadays you can’t be sure whether CEO stands for chief executive officer, or chief emoji officer.

As we stagnate for a second year in lockdown and all arguments that the efficient rollout of vaccines must lead to our freedom, fall like raindrops on a corrugated iron roof, we can only marvel at people who have managed to improve and accelerate their careers. Like Prince Harry.

He is now a chief impact officer. Well done Hazza. But what is a chief impact officer, or CIO as we must now call it? And more importantly; what does a CIO actually do?

Antony Painter, 46, has been CIO of the RSA (Royal Society of Arts), since 2019, and he says his job is to find practical solutions to social challenges. A recent project of his (Cities of Learning) involved facilitating coders and councils to create an app that helps the public to discover learning projects, with a view to finding employment. 

Prince Harry’s new employer, BetterUp, worth $1.73bn, also aims to improve individuals’ prospects, offering personal coaching to people seeking ‘meaningful, vibrant lives’.

Painter says that a quarter of his time is spent “building and maintaining external relationships, including funding partnerships.” Another quarter goes towards devising strategy for projects and the rest is spent on his own research and helping others in the team develop their own ideas. 

Painter had previously directed the Independent Review of the Police Federation and has written books about politics and media. In other words, he seems quite well-qualified for a job. But what about Harry?

Painter says: “My observation of Harry is that he is someone who is clearly committed to impacts. He’s behind the Invictus Games and so on. I get a sense that he’s got a high degree of emotional intelligence.” Painter sees the Royal family as having strong social consciences, “and I’m sure he carries that with him”.

Whether the Duke can translate his personal qualities into success for BetterUp, says Painter, “remains to be seen. It’s hard and it’s tough. I’m very happy to help him think it through if he wants to get in touch. But other than that, I think he’s probably got a lot of what matters to begin with. And I’m sure he can lead on networks of expertise and resources, and so on, to help him make a difference.”

Painter hopes that Harry’s appointment will make the role of CIO a more recognisable term and that all companies will rush to create such a position. 

So, in essence, CIO means whatever you want it to mean and joins a list of similar titles that most people would be too embarrassed to have printed on their business card; like CIDO (chief inclusion and diversity officer), CHO (chief happiness officer), mood managers and data ethnographers.   

However, be wary of the owners of invented titles. Back to my old Aston-driving CFO. I found out what power abbreviated job titles wield, when he got me sacked for telling everyone he was the person responsible for Bjorn Borg’s bankruptcy.

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