Chair: Definition, Role, and Real-World Examples


In the corporate world, the term “chair” refers to a pivotal position that plays a significant role in board decisions. This article explores the role of a chair, its influence on board meetings, and the distinction between a chair and a CEO. It also delves into examples of companies that combine or separate these roles. Understanding the dynamics of a chair’s position is essential for those interested in corporate governance.

What is a chair?

In the corporate landscape, a “chair” is an executive elected by a company’s board of directors, responsible for presiding over board meetings and committee gatherings. Their role is instrumental in shaping the direction of the company. Here, we will delve deeper into the responsibilities and significance of a chair in the corporate world.

The role and responsibilities of a chair

The chair holds the reins of the board of directors for a company, a body elected to represent shareholders’ interests. The board’s primary mandate is to establish corporate policies, oversee management, and make crucial decisions on major company issues. It typically comprises both internal and external members, representing both management and shareholder interests.

One of the chair’s most crucial responsibilities is setting the agenda for board meetings. This task gives them significant influence over the board’s decisions. They ensure that meetings run smoothly, maintaining order and striving to achieve a consensus in board decisions.

The chair’s influence on CEO selection

While the chief executive officer (CEO) runs the company and is the point of contact for company executives, the chair holds sway in the CEO selection process. The board appoints the CEO, and the chair can influence this selection. However, in most cases, the chair doesn’t involve themselves in the CEO’s daily responsibilities, preserving the clarity of roles and separation of powers.

Chair vs. CEO

The chair is distinct from the CEO and can be either a non-executive or executive position. In some companies, these roles are combined, which can affect transparency and accountability. Separating these positions creates a system of checks and balances, ensuring that power is not concentrated in one individual.

While the chair has supervisory abilities, the CEO’s primary responsibilities encompass major corporate decisions, from day-to-day operations to resource management. CEOs often hold positions on the board as well. Their roles vary depending on the company’s size, culture, and industry.

In smaller companies, CEOs often take on more hands-on roles, including hiring and staff management. In contrast, CEOs of larger, Fortune 500 companies focus on macro-level strategies and growth direction, delegating other tasks to division executives. They set the organizational tone and vision and execute strategies to achieve those goals.

Examples of chair positions

Companies adopt different approaches when it comes to chair and CEO roles. Let’s explore a few examples:

1. JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM): Jamie Dimon holds both the CEO and chair positions. This dual role is not uncommon in the financial services industry.

2. Apple Inc. (AAPL): Apple separates the roles, with Tim Cook as the CEO and Arthur D. Levinson as the chair. Levinson has a background in biotechnology and brings valuable expertise to the board.

3. Meta (formerly Facebook): Mark Zuckerberg holds the positions of founder, chair, and CEO. Founder-led companies often combine these roles, retaining control and direction.

4. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway): Warren Buffett is not only the chair but also the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a multinational conglomerate. His leadership and investment acumen have made Berkshire Hathaway one of the most successful companies in the world.

5. Mary Barra (General Motors): Mary Barra serves as the chair and CEO of General Motors. She is known for her leadership in the automotive industry and her focus on innovation and sustainability.

6. Warren Gatland (British & Irish Lions): In the world of sports, Warren Gatland, the chair of the British & Irish Lions rugby team, has shown remarkable leadership in coaching and guiding the team to success.

In the case of founder-led companies, it’s not unusual for the founder to occupy multiple roles, including chair and CEO. However, over time, these roles might be separated if the need arises.

Gender-neutral terminology

As more women take on chair positions at leading organizations, the question of terminology arises. “Chair” is a gender-neutral term, but some individuals may prefer “chairwoman.” For instance, Christine Lagarde, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), used the term “Madame chair of the executive board.”

The importance of a skilled chair

Effective corporate governance depends on having a skilled chair who can guide the board and foster collaborative decision-making. The chair’s role is critical in ensuring that the board acts in the best interests of the company and its stakeholders. Here are some key attributes of a skilled chair:

  • Leadership: A skilled chair should possess strong leadership qualities, inspiring board members to work cohesively and make informed decisions.
  • Communication: Effective communication is paramount in a chair’s role, ensuring that all board members are well-informed and engaged in discussions.
  • Conflict resolution: Board meetings can sometimes involve differing opinions. A skilled chair excels in managing conflicts and steering discussions toward consensus.
  • Strategic thinking: Chairs need to think strategically, aligning the board’s decisions with the company’s long-term goals and vision.
  • Ethical standards: Upholding ethical standards and integrity is essential for a chair to maintain trust among board members and stakeholders.

The role of a chair in crisis management

Chairs play a crucial role not only in regular board meetings but also in times of crisis. When a company faces significant challenges, such as financial turmoil or a public relations crisis, the chair’s leadership becomes even more critical. During such times, the chair may:

  • Lead crisis management meetings to address the immediate issues and develop a response strategy.
  • Work closely with the CEO and other executives to ensure effective communication both internally and externally.
  • Provide guidance and reassurance to the board and shareholders to maintain confidence in the company’s ability to overcome the crisis.
  • Initiate necessary changes in corporate strategy or leadership if the crisis is a result of systemic issues.

Global variations in chair roles

The roles and responsibilities of a chair can vary significantly depending on the country and the specific regulations in place. For example:

  • In the United States, the chair is typically separate from the CEO, emphasizing the importance of board independence and checks and balances.
  • In some European countries, such as the United Kingdom, it’s more common for the chair and CEO roles to be combined.
  • In emerging markets, corporate governance practices may still be evolving, impacting the effectiveness of the chair’s role.

Understanding these global variations is essential for investors and stakeholders with interests in multinational companies.


In the corporate world, a chair is a key figure in governance, wielding influence over board decisions and CEO selection. Understanding the role of a chair and how it differs from that of a CEO is essential for those interested in corporate governance. Whether roles are combined or separated, chairs play a pivotal role in steering a company’s direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly does a chair do in a company?

A chair in a company is responsible for presiding over board meetings and committee gatherings. They play a crucial role in shaping the company’s direction by setting meeting agendas and influencing board decisions.

How does a chair differ from a CEO?

A chair and a CEO have distinct roles. While the chair influences board decisions and CEO selection, the CEO is responsible for day-to-day company operations. Separating these roles ensures checks and balances in corporate governance.

Can the chair overrule a CEO’s decisions?

Yes, the chair can overrule a CEO’s decisions if the board votes together. However, this is a rare occurrence, and the chair typically focuses on governance and board-related matters, allowing the CEO to manage daily operations.

What is the significance of gender-neutral terminology for chairs?

Gender-neutral terminology, such as “chair,” promotes diversity and inclusion in corporate leadership roles. It allows individuals of all genders to hold chair positions without the need for gender-specific titles.

How do chair roles vary globally?

Chair roles can vary significantly depending on the country and its specific regulations. In the United States, chairs are typically separate from CEOs, emphasizing board independence. In some European countries, chairs and CEOs may hold combined roles, while emerging markets may have evolving governance practices.

Key takeaways

  • A chair presides over board meetings and influences board decisions.
  • The CEO runs day-to-day company operations but is appointed by the board, allowing the chair to influence CEO selection.
  • Companies may choose to combine or separate the roles of chair and CEO, impacting transparency and accountability.
  • Growth in gender-neutral terminology promotes diversity and inclusion in corporate leadership roles.
View article sources
  1. Chair and Vice-Chairs – Local Government Association
  2. Understanding the Role of Chair – Institute for Local Government
  3. Chair – Australian Parliament House