Guide to Becoming a Chief Production Officer

Head of the project holds laptop and discusses product details with chief engineer while they walk through modern factory.

As supply chain management evolved to include modern technologies and operational innovations, the role of chief production officer (CPO) — sometimes “chief manufacturing officer” (CMO) — became increasingly critical to a company’s executive team. Working for C-Suite executives like the chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and chief operating officer, the CPO manages their division of the company by overseeing the production process. Depending on which sector the business operates, the CPO’s role may include the acquisition of equipment and resources for manufacturing, the planning and monitoring of efficient workflow procedures and practices for maximized efficiency, the distribution of products after the manufacturing process is complete, and the management and supervision of the workforce responsible for production.

Here, we will further examine the role of chief production officer including what a CPO’s responsibilities are, how one becomes a CPO, the education and skills necessary to have the position, and how the role is critical to the supply chain.

What does a chief production officer do?

A chief production officer oversees all aspects of an organization’s manufacturing processes. The CPO plans and directs the purchase and layout of the manufacturing equipment, as well as overseeing the maintenance of the equipment and facilities. The CPO also establishes workflow and assembly methods to maximize efficiency of manufacturing operations, directs workforce utilization, and continually monitors manufacturing performance to ensure quality standards are met. This operational work is combined with the expectation that the CPO establishes overall direction and strategic initiatives, demonstrates leadership and accountability to the manufacturing division, and provides the data and forecasting that top management requires to calculate the success of production efforts and how those results impact other areas of the business like budgeting, sales, and marketing. While the exact tasks may range depending on the industry, someone pursuing the position of chief production officer should expect to have the following responsibilities:

  • Staying informed of and understanding all aspects of production and management, including new regulations, organizational policies, and possible new technologies and practices
  • Promoting and representing the organization and the industry through participation on committees/boards
  • Developing and maintaining existing business and employee relationships
  • Conducting regular meetings to build relationships and resolve any outstanding issues
  • Making regular manufacturing facility visits
  • Working closely with the human resources department to ensure the development of an effective and motivated workforce
  • Delegating responsibility throughout the organization with the goal of maximizing productivity and quality
  • Developing and implementing all standard operating procedures, timelines and schedules for the organization’s production and management departments
  • Providing organizational leadership by establishing and communicating expectations and providing a clear vision

Not only do the responsibilities of the chief production officer vary depending on the industry, but the compensation for the CPO can also vary by industry. While the average base salary or core compensation for a chief production officer was $225,000 to $319,000 with a mean average of $268,090, average total cash compensation, which includes base salary and annual incentives, ranges from $285,000 to $460,000 with a mean average of $356,070.

Chief production officers are in demand for a variety of industries. They may work in manufacturing, energy and utilities, and aerospace and defense.

What are the qualifications to be a chief production officer?

Representing $2.3 trillion (or 11.6% of the United States’ GDP in 2018), as well as 12.75 million jobs that make up 8.5% of the nation’s workforce, manufacturing continues to make up a significant portion of the nation’s economic output, and yet still faces the hindrances of a 21st century global economy with diminishing resources, challenges to the supply chain, and generational shifts in the workforce. Given these demands, prior to being a CPO, one must first meet the academic and professional requirements.

Academically, a chief production officer is not only expected to have a bachelor’s degree, but roughly 60% have master's level training. And, given the need for understanding business and operational methods, having an academic background in management, operations, economics, or engineering is highly valuable. Furthermore, academic training in mathematics and statistics are useful for understanding data and applying quantitative analysis.

Professionally, a CPO is expected to have previous experience as a manufacturing executive. There are two types of manufacturing executives: production line executives and wholesale representatives.

Production line executives (PLEs) represent 30% of manufacturing executives, are based in manufacturing facilities, and work closely with employees. Their responsibilities consist of coordinating production, supervising production employees, checking inventory levels, filling orders from sales representatives, and overseeing equipment maintenance.

Wholesale sales representatives (WSRs) represent the remaining 70% of manufacturing executives and focus primarily on sales. Unlike PLEs, wholesale representatives spend a majority of their job traveling to meet clients and recruit new business, as well as checking shipments and customers’ inventory levels.

PLEs and WSRs frequently interact. Given a territory to oversee, WSRs manage these client relationships and the product distribution within their region by communicating with PLEs on manufacturing costs, delivery costs, production efficiency, inventory levels, and product line options.

While both executive roles are important to a business’ operation, the schedules and salaries of the two positions are not the same. WSRs have longer hours and travel a majority of their time (though they may control when they travel). As a result, WSRs receive greater compensation than PLEs who have predictable hours, little to no travel, and lesser compensation. However, it is the responsibilities and experiences of the PLEs that may make them the preferred candidates for the role of chief production officer. As a product line executive, one becomes familiar with the local operation, costs, inefficiencies, and workforce issues that, when aggregated, represent a majority of the workflow handled by the CPO.

Some prior jobs will leave you well-positioned for a chief production officer role. According to Zippia, of those who held a CPO or equivalent position, in their previous work experience:

  • 13.3% held the title of Manufacturing Manager
  • 13.3% held the title of Plant Manager
  • 9.1% held the title of Operations Manager
  • 7.2% held the title of Operations Director
  • 5.6% held the title of Manufacturing Director
  • 5.0% held the title of Production Manager

These roles have in common the overseeing of equipment, the management of individuals, and the reporting of critical financial data to senior management like the CFO and COO. That is why a major requirement for CPO candidates is experience within an industry or previous work in manufacturing, with 75% of chief production officers having at least 15+ years of experience before being hired. The top skills required for a chief production officer role are

  • Developing plans;
  • Establishing objectives;
  • Overseeing activities;
  • Analyzing blueprints; and
  • Assigning duties.

Best program for becoming a chief production officer

Chief production officers need to balance supply chain information, planning, cost management, and logistics to deliver high-quality products efficiently. And developing the necessary CPO skills can be best achieved through higher education.

The online MS in Supply Chain Management (MSSCM) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business offers an immersive experience without interrupting your career. The program is taught by the same expert faculty members that are recognized through the Global Supply Chain Institute (GSCI) as industry experts.

For those interested in bolstering their skills in the C-suite, Haslam also offers an Executive MBA program for Global Supply Chain that can be completed in less than a year. Minimal time away from work and immediate application of the concepts help organizations manage workstreams while expanding their supply chain discipline.

Given the demands businesses place on the CPO position, an advanced degree from Haslam will prepare students to respond to the challenges in any senior management role. Learn more today.