How to become an effective second-in-command in a company

What is 2ic (Second in Command)?

The term “2ic” is borrowed from the British military, where it is shorthand for a deputy commander in the British Army or Royal Marines units. In business, 2ic refers to the “second in command” after the founder or CEO, who can lead the business in the absence of the chief executive officer. Large companies create the role of second in command as a contingency plan in the event that the founder or CEO is absent, ailing, or is otherwise unavailable to run the company.


2ic (second in command)


The creation of the position of the 2ic is aimed at strengthening the management team. In a situation where the success of a company is dependent on the founder or owner of the business, installing a 2ic helps enhance investor confidence. Also, it allows the business owner to be away from the company with the assurance that it will continue operating even in his/her absence. The practice is most common in large companies where the owner is aging and plans to retire in the near future or is looking for a person with diverse management skills to help run the business.


Functions of a 2ic

The person occupying the position of a second-in-command performs two essential tasks – managing the company in the chief executive’s absence and managing the relationship with the CEO. The functions make the position a challenging job because the occupant must manage the day-to-day operations of the company and still assume the responsibility of keeping the CEO in the loop. Failure to perform these functions correctly may cost the 2ic his job. Here is a breakdown of these two functions:


1. Managing the company

Most CEOs appoint a 2ic when they are keen on establishing a succession plan, building the company for sale, or growing its revenues. Either way, the CEO wants a skilled person who can run the company efficiently even in his/her absence. In such cases, the 2ic needs to be someone with a track record of good management and someone that the CEO can trust. The second in command will act as CEO, running the day-to-day affairs of the company, delegating authority, and ensuring that all departments of the company are working in harmony. However, he will be answerable to the CEO and must keep the latter in the know in relation to the affairs of the company.


2. Managing the relationship with the CEO

For the 2ic to be successful in managing the company and earning the trust of the CEO, he needs to manage his relationship with the CEO properly. The following are some of the ways that the 2ic can maintain a good relationship with the CEO:

  • Understand the CEO’s Vision
    Knowing the CEO’s vision for the company can help the 2ic know the direction that the company should take in order to achieve its targets. For example, if the CEO’s vision is to build a global company in the next 10 years, the 2ic can use that vision to set financial targets such as sales and profit margins that will help the company start operations in other countries in the future.
  • Help the CEO do the right things
    While the CEO’s plan is to make sure that the employees do the right thing, he may not be there to make sure that the employees do precisely that. The 2ic can start by asking the CEO what the company is currently doing and what it is supposed to be doing. Areas of particular concern include the state of the industry and marketplace, the technology used by the company, customer service, etc.
  • Define your role as the CEO wants it
    Sometimes, the 2ic may mistake his functions, depending on how the CEO states them. This is because what the CEO actually wants may be different from what he says. To avoid confusion, the second in command should first understand if the CEO wants a leader or merely a manager. The role of a manager is to implement the vision and strategy created by the CEO, while the role of a leader is to define the company’s direction with a sense of ownership.


Functions of a 2ic


How to Thrive as a 2ic

For the 2ic to succeed as the second-in-command after the CEO, there are certain things that he can do to increase the CEO’s trust and survive in the role. He should keep the following things in mind to increase his chances of success:


1. Help the CEO clarify his new role

The first step that the 2ic should take is to ensure that the functions of the CEO and 2ic are clearly defined to avoid conflicts along the way. When the roles and responsibilities of the CEO are outlined at the onset, the 2ic can keep away from functions reserved for the CEO, and there will be fewer instances of overlap in the functions and responsibilities between the top two executives. Also, identifying the role of the CEO will help the 2ic assist his boss when needed.


2. Keep the CEO informed at all times

One mistake that 2ic’s are likely to make is keeping the CEO in the dark on the happenings of the company. The impact of this is a psychological tension between the CEO. The 2ic must regularly report back to the CEO on how things are going on and the progress of assignments. Periodically reporting on assignments closes the communication breakdown and allows the CEO to focus on areas where they provide the highest value, rather than following minor issues that do not require their attention.


3. Establish a formal method of communication

The relationship between the CEO and the 2ic may develop cracks if there is no official communication between them. The second-in-command should insist on formal meetings and communication schedules to brief the CEO on the company’s current projects, challenges, plans, and other areas that require his attention. Without a formal communication method, the CEO and the second in command may work based on erroneous assumptions, and this may negatively affect the company’s performance.


4. Accomplish business targets

The 2ic should strive to accomplish some or all of the objectives set during a specific period. This can help demonstrate his ability to help the company accomplish its vision and re-affirm the CEO’s faith in the second-in-command.


Related Readings

Thank you for reading CFI’s guide to 2ic. CFI is the leading provider of the global Financial Modeling & Valuation Analyst (FMVA)™ certification program. To learn more and expand your career, explore the additional relevant resources below:

  • Corporate Structure
  • Leadership Traits
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Leading by Example

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