Is the CEO the owner?

December 19, 2023

Is the CEO the owner of a company? Does holding the highest position in a corporate entity make one the proprietor? How often do these roles converge or diverge? In the corporate realm, the distinction between the CEO and the owner is often blurred, leading to numerous misconceptions and misunderstandings. While it is not uncommon for the CEO to also be the owner particularly in small businesses, these two roles are essentially dissimilar and do not always pertain to the same individual.

The primary issue lies in the conflation of these two roles and the inevitable confusion that arises, as pointed out by Forrester Research and The Wall Street Journal. The former expounds on the distinct tasks of a CEO and an owner, emphasizing how easily these lines can be blurred in certain circumstances. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, stresses the importance of clear role definitions for effective corporate governance. The proposal to address this issue roots back to a transparent exposition of the differing responsibilities and prerogatives of a CEO and an owner, and underlining the crucial role of effective communication in bridging this gap.

In this article, you will learn about the various factors that differentiate a CEO from an owner. With examples from different industries and case studies, the intricacies of the roles and responsibilities of the CEO versus the owner will be unraveled. Key insights from industry leaders and experts will be utilized to elucidate the variances between these two crucial roles. Additionally, the influence of the company’s size, business nature, and corporate structure in context to this differentiation will be explored.

The aim is to dissipate the prevailing misapprehensions about these roles and to establish a clear understanding of their nature. By deciphering the hierarchical structure and delving into the realms of corporate governance and leadership, this article endeavours to elucidate whether the CEO is, in fact, the owner, and if not, the rationale behind it.

Is the CEO the owner?

Definitions: Understanding the Roles of CEOs and Owners

The CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is the highest-ranking executive in a company. They are responsible for making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company, and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and the corporate operations.

The owner of a company, meanwhile, is the individual or entity that legally owns the business. They may or may not be involved in the daily operations of the business. In many cases, the owner could also serve as the CEO, but these roles are not necessarily the same. An owner has a financial claim to a part of the company’s assets and earnings, while a CEO is primarily responsible for the management and success of the business.

The Leadership Puzzle: Is the CEO Always the Owner?

The Roles and Responsibilities of a CEO

A CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is the highest-ranking individual within a company or an organization. Their primary responsibility is to make the major corporate decisions, overall operations, and resources of the company, including the financial performance, vision, mission, and strategy. At the same time, the CEO is also the vital link between the board of directors and the operations of the company.

A CEO should possess strategic thinking abilities, leadership skills, and a strong sense of responsibility for the company. They need to be able to steer the organization in the right direction, maintain employee morale, and ensure that the company is profitable. However, they do not necessarily have to be the owner of the company.

CEO and Ownership

The ownership of a company is not a given for a CEO. Owners, also known as shareholders, invest money into the business and expect a return on their investment. In contrast, a CEO is hired or appointed by the board of directors to lead the organization towards achieving its goals and objectives.

In some cases, a CEO can also be an owner if they own a significant amount of shares in the company. This is particularly common in startup companies where the founder often takes on the role of the CEO. Conversely, large organizations and corporations generally hire a professional CEO who doesn’t hold ownership.

  • CEO: They are the highest-ranking officer in the company, with responsibilities of making corporate decisions and managing the overall operations and resources. The CEO is appointed by the board of directors and isn’t necessarily the owner.
  • Owner: The owner or shareholder is the individual or entity that legally owns the business. They invest money and resources into the business, with an expectation of making a return on their investment.
  • Owner-CEO: In some circumstances, the CEO can also be the owner. This frequently occurs in startup companies where the founder serves as the CEO. However, in larger corporations, the CEO is often someone hired from outside who does not have an ownership stake.

So, while the roles of a CEO and an owner can intersect, they are not by default one and the same. The main difference lies in the CEO’s responsibilities towards running the company, whereas the owner’s primary goal is to get a return on their investment. It is a distinction that can play a crucial role in how an organization is run and how decisions are made.

Debunking Myths: The Fine Line between Owning and Leading as CEO

A Common Misconception in Business Leadership

Is the CEO really the owner of the company? This is a question often raised in the corporate world. However, the answer may not be as straightforward as one might think. The role of the CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is predominantly focused on making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company, and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and corporate operations. CEO’s don’t necessarily hold the majority of shares in the company, unlike owners who can be individuals, partnerships, or other entities that hold a majority of the shares, giving them significant control over company operations. So while a CEO can also be an owner, it’s not a given. They are, in essence, two distinct roles with different responsibilities and functions.

The Conflation: Where We Go Wrong

At the root of this confusion, lies a common but fundamentally flawed belief that leadership equates to ownership. This belief, unfortunately, leads to a mix-up between the responsibilities and duties of a CEO and an owner. The primary goal of a CEO is to provide strategic direction, make major decisions, manage the organization’s resources and operations, and act as the liaison between the board and the workers. Ownership, as a concept, encapsulates the idea of possessing or holding as one’s own, typically by legal claim. Owners, therefore, not only have legal rights to a business or property, but also deal with all the risks and responsibilities that come with it. Therefore, to conflate the functions of leadership and ownership can create distortions in understanding the organization’s overall dynamic and can result in an imbalance of power and responsibilities.

Leading by Example: Successful CEO-Owner Relationships

There are various recognized companies that provide excellent examples for separating ownership from leadership in order to maintain a balanced power structure. Apple Inc. is a prime example, where even though late Steve Jobs was a co-founder and owner, he hired Tim Cook as CEO for daily operations. Similarly, Ford Motors made family heir Bill Ford Executive Chairman, but non-family member Jim Farley is CEO. In these instances, hiring an outsider as CEO can help maintain a level playing field within the company and keep decision-making transparent and free from personal bias associated with ownership. These companies exemplify the advantages of maintaining clear distinctions between the roles of CEO and owner for the company’s overall health, stability, and progress.

Behind the Scenes: The Untold Stories of CEOs who Aren’t Owners

A Misconception in Leadership Roles

Is a CEO always the owner of the business? This thought-provoking question challenges a commonly held belief. Indeed, the intricate world of corporate structure may reveal a different reality. A CEO, or Chief Executive Officer, is the highest-ranking officer in a company or organization. Their main responsibility is making major corporate decisions and managing the overall operations and resources of the business. However, being the CEO does not directly translate to being the owner of the company. The owner of a company is typically someone who has invested their capital into starting the business and owns a significant share of the company’s equity. While it is common for the owner to also take up the role of the CEO, particularly in small businesses or start-ups, a CEO can also be a professional executive hired by the company’s board of directors or the owner themselves.

The Core Problem: Conflicting Interests

When the CEO is not the owner, potential problems can arise due to a divergence of interests between the two roles. The interests of a company’s owner may not always align with that of a hired CEO. Owners are primarily concerned about their investment and long-term profitability of the company. On the other hand, a CEO’s main concern is the smooth operation and management of the company on a day-to-day basis. These differing priorities can sometimes result in conflicts. Lack of alignment between the owner and CEO in terms of the company’s strategic direction, vision, and decision-making could even lead to adverse outcomes for the company.

Best Practices: Examples to Emulate

Despite these challenges, there are numerous examples of successful companies where the CEO is not the owner. One of the best examples is that of Google. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, brought in Eric Schmidt as the CEO in 2001 to help scale the business. Being tech inventors, they acknowledged the need for someone with better management skills to operate this growing enterprise. Despite numerous changes at the executive level over the years, Google has continued to thrive, demonstrating that a non-owner CEO can indeed lead a company to global recognition and success. Similarly, Microsoft, with Satya Nadella as its CEO, showed great growth even though the founder, Bill Gates, had stepped down from his position. The professional CEOs could bring in a fresh perspective and a set of skills that complemented the founder’s vision, leading to the tech giants’ success we see today. These examples highlight how professional CEOs, when chosen wisely and supported adequately can add immense value to a business.


Could the chief executive officer essentially be regarded as the proprietor of a company? To encapsulate, the CEO and the owner are not necessarily the same individual in an organization, although there can be scenarios where this might be the case. The CEO is typically hired by the company owner or the board of directors and is accountable for the daily operations and overall strategy of the business. The holder, on the contrary, can be a single individual, a group of stockholders, or perhaps, another company, who has a financial stake in the business but may not participate in its daily activities.

Engage with us on our blog as we explore these interesting business facets that are often misconstrued, hoping to offer you accurate and thought-out information. We aim to provide you a comprehensive understanding of how businesses operate, the diverse roles within, along with diverse aspects of entrepreneurship and corporate leadership. This exploration of the corporate world, marked by scholarly insights and real-world examples, promises you an enlightening journey. So, continue connecting with us!

Awaited are more contemporaneous releases, where we delve deeper into the business ecosystem, shedding light on intricate subjects. These explorations can equip you with the power to comprehend, investigate and succeed in your business or professional setting. As we continue embarking on this exploration, we would love to receive your queries and opinions on these subjects. Remember, the world of business is enthralling, luring those willing to learn and adapt. Let’s embark on this journey together, striving for a better understanding and stronger concepts. So stay tuned, the exploration continues.


1. Is the CEO always the owner of a company?
No, a CEO is not always the owner of the company. They are typically hired by the company’s board of directors to manage the daily operations of the business.

2. Can a CEO also be an owner?
Yes, a CEO can also be an owner in many instances. This is often the case in smaller businesses or startups, where the founder of the company often holds the role of CEO.

3. What is the primary difference between the CEO and the owner?
The primary difference lies in the role and responsibilities. While an owner has the ultimate control and decision-making power within the company, a CEO is primarily responsible for daily operational management and strategic leadership.

4. Does the CEO have the power to make key decisions like an owner?
While a CEO has significant authority in the day-to-day operations and can make important strategic decisions, they often still answer to the board of directors or the business owner. The owner holds the ultimate authority in deciding the direction of the company.

5. How does profit distribution work between an owner and a CEO?
Profit distribution largely depends on the agreement set up within the company. If the CEO is also the owner, they receive profits as an owner. If not, they receive a salary for their role as CEO, which is separate from the owner’s profits.

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