It's not at all clear to me what the CEO's job description is, or why he is the most qualified person to do it. Is it inappropriate to ask him these things in a public meeting? I don't think I'd receive a response to these questions in a less than public setting, but I also wouldn't receive one in a public setting if the answer to this question is "yes, it is inappropriate".

For context, I work at a successful tech company, about four years old

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    To me, it seems like if you're going to ask this, you'd get better results in a friendly (i.e., carefully worded) private meeting. Asking him this in public might make him feel like he is on trial. Not something you'd usually want to do to someone who can fire you. – rbwhitaker Sep 1 '13 at 14:35
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    If it's a publicly held corporation, insider compensation is public knowledge. "It's not at all clear to me what the CEO's job description is" indicates that you have no idea what you're doing as a stockholder. Reading a few books on the topic might bring you up to speed. In the meantime, you have no business owning stock in anything. – Meredith Poor Sep 1 '13 at 15:41
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    Who said that a CEO is the most qualified person to do it? Often CEOs are either founders of a company or were recruited by search firms that a board of directors approve. In neither case is there any kind of exhaustive test to rule out the billions of others on the planet from being qualified for the job. – JB King Sep 1 '13 at 20:26
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    This question made me laugh. "Hey, CEO! What do you actually do around here, anyway?" – James Adam Sep 3 '13 at 13:12

I'm guessing you have some sort of personal agenda with this question, but I'll answer it anyway.

In public meetings (for example Shareholder's Meetings), shareholders are allowed to ask anything they choose.

On the other hand, don't expect anything other than generalizations as an answer to a question like "what is your job description, and why are you the most qualified?"

If you are an employee of this company, asking this sort of question is what I call "a career-limiting move". I wouldn't advise it.

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    If you are an employee of this company, asking this sort of question is what I call "a career-limiting move". +1... – enderland Sep 1 '13 at 13:49
  • A kamikaze or suicidal move :-))) – Pam Sep 2 '13 at 13:04

In my culture [white collar North American office jobs, over 30 years old, English speaking], it is never appropriate to ask anyone their salary, ever, in public or in private. Not someone below you, not someone above you, no-one. Occasionally there are exceptions but they must always be worded carefully:

If I were to rise to a position like yours, what kind of salary could I expect?

What's the ratio between the highest and lowest salaries in our firm?

What percentage of the total salary expense in this company goes to executives, and what percentage to those who [make what we sell, or bill for our time, or whatever]?


How much do they pay you to do this?

As for asking his job responsibilities, it's good that you want to know that. Many people have no idea what the executives above them do, or think they know and don't really think it's important. I recommend you start below the CEO though. Much of what you do is assigned to you in order for your direct manager to achieve some goals that were set by the company. Say you're a sales rep, and your manager is head of sales. Someone decided "we should sell 5% more this year" and gave that to your manager as a goal. Your manager in turn may have asked you to sell 7% more this year, knowing that some other new hire is unlikely to sell more than the new hire he or she replaced. [Or someone decided that a way to raise sales would be to release version 2.7 of something, and it's your job to write, test, document or whatever this new version 2.7.]

In the same way, the reason your manager was asked to raise sales 5% in a particular division is that someone else was asked to raise revenue 6% overall, and that's because someone else was asked to raise profit 7% overall, and so on. As you look up the chain you'll understand that executives deal in a different reality than line workers, and each contributes to the whole. It's really common for a CEO not to be able to make the product the company sells, or even use it. That doesn't make them unqualified - painting is not the same as running an art gallery, cooking is not the same as running a restaurant, etc.

If you're genuinely curious what a CEO does all day, there are lots of ways to learn about it. Chatting with your manager about what a manager does all day, then asking about a director, a VP, a senior VP etc can be very illuminating. So can reading web sites or magazines for executives. If your agenda is more "I can't believe this knucklehead gets 10 times my salary and couldn't even launch Visual Studio to save his life", tread VERY carefully. You're probably not right, but more importantly even if you are, there is essentially nothing for you to gain by being right in that opinion.

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No it is not appropriate.

The CEO's job description is to be ultimately responsible for all aspects of the company. When it comes down to it there is nothing that is not in his job description if it needs done at the company. But the CEO is also the top manager and part of their job is making sure that the people that work for them have work to do and are the right people for the job. Note that i did not say best person for the job. The best person for the job could have something else to do.

As for their pay that really depends what type of company you are. If the company is publicly traded then you should be able to find out the salary from public filings. If the company is a privately traded company the information may be available or it could be kept confidential and only disclosed during the required filings which are often not made public. If the company is private and does not disclose the salary, then it is possible that their is a confidentiality clause in the contract, so not only would it be rude to ask but they may be contractually obligated not to divulge their salary. In addition. Many CEO's have a low to nominal salary (often $1) and are compensated based on how the company performs with quarterly and annual bonuses. So even if they answer your question, it does not mean that the answer was truly accurate since what you really want to know is what their total compensation amount is. But if you can not find it publicly available, then unless you have a good reason to know it, then asking about it would be rude and inappropriate.

The CEO already has their job so asking them why they are the most appropriate person for their job is only likely to be taken as in inference that you do not think that they are. Unless you are in a position where you have the ability to remove them from the position(IE The board of directors or majority shareholder) and are prepare to remove them should their answer not meet your expectations then not only is it inappropriate it is quite rude. It will reflect poorly on you, and quite possibly your manager and team.

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There have been a few responses coming from an assumption that you have some sort of ulterior motive to this question - i.e. that you want to know what the CEO does and why he was chosen to do it because you think he's doing a bad job of it.

I'll come from the other direction and assume you want to know because you're relatively new to the workplace and genuinely have no idea what a CEO does!

In this case, I don't think it is inappropriate at all to ask the CEO some questions, but I'd keep it light and social. If you have a company get-together, social event, drinks on Friday, have a chat to the CEO. Don't grill him - ask him what a "day in the life" is like as CEO. Chat about what sort of thing he did earlier in his career. But probably best not to ask "why are you the most qualified person?". That, as Joe said, could be a career-limiting move!

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    It is quite possible that the present CEO is not the person most qualified to do the job, but has it because he put most money in in the early days, or by agreement between the founders, or was most qualified at the time of his appointment. These are all legitimate reasons. A general question about how the company got started may be enlightening without throwing up any implied slight to his competence! – Julia Hayward Sep 2 '13 at 11:22
  • You need to identify the most mediocre and unqualified people and make sure to become their buddy. Those are the people with right connections. The rest are slaves. :-))) – Pam Sep 2 '13 at 13:06
  • Would love to hear the two downvoters offer some advice about what was wrong or inappropriate about this answer? – Carson63000 Sep 15 '13 at 23:59

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