What Does "C-Level Employees" Mean?

Top level business executives in business office
Top level business executives in business office (Image: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images)

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.

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.

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