- Chief AI officer is one of the corporate world’s hottest AI jobs.
- The role ideally bridges the gap between technical AI expertise and business acumen.
- But leaders say finding the right candidate can be hard — and many don’t understand the role.
There’s a new seat at the C-suite table — and it’s for a chief AI officer.
Broadly speaking, the role entails bridging the gap between the crucial micro details of working with AI and the macro strategy of the larger company. It’s become a far more familiar job for the corporate world recently as businesses seek guidance on how to use AI — a relatively new technology — to save time and boost productivity.
Companies across industries — from staffing to semiconductors — have been actively hiring for chief AI officers, who are expected to play a major role in steering corporations towards AI adoption as the landscape continues rapidly evolving. That’s sometimes much-needed, with many CEOs appearing unsure how to adopt, invest in, or effectively use the technology. A recent Accenture survey of 3,400 C-suite execs found that only 27% said their companies are ready to scale up with generative AI.
But some businesses aren’t sure what the role entails, and whether it’s necessary. Moreover, finding someone who fits the role is hard work, recruiters say.
Technical skills aren’t enough to be a chief AI officer
Companies interested in investing more in AI may be wondering: Do they really need to hire a chief AI officer when there are already data scientists and machine learning engineers with deep knowledge?
The answer from most experts: yes. The skills involved in data analysis and machine learning, another hot tech job that involves designing, building and training AI systems so they can eventually start to make their own decisions, aren’t enough.
Greg Selker, a managing director at executive recruitment firm Stanton Chase, believes the ideal chief AI officer has a wide array of responsibilities, including understanding the ins and outs of large language models and how to make them. They also need to know how these AI models can be applied across the entire business.
“They can’t be a data scientist who spends their time writing algorithms,” Selker told Business Insider. “The chief AI officer is more going to be involved in creating the applications that are going to be leveraging the LLM.”
Chris Daigle, the CEO of ChiefAIOfficer.com, an AI consulting service, said most of his small and medium-sized clients don’t need a machine learning engineer or data analyst to build their own LLMs. They just need a leader who understands the AI tools that currently exist — and how to apply them to different parts of their business.
The job also requires skills outside computer science. Justin Kinsey, the president of recruiting firm SBT Industries, said his clients need a leader who can navigate the ethical minefield of AI deployment. Having that knowledge, he says, will ensure that productivity gains are made in a safe manner. SBT Industries is currently working with two semiconductor companies to hire chief AI officers,
Strategic thinking is key to the role, many said, plus leadership skills.
For example, Daigle said, a ChatGPT connoisseur with a few automation tricks up their sleeve may not necessarily know how to use the AI chatbot to transform a business. Instead, the chief AI officer should understand the business on a macro and micro level before overlaying generative AI onto it.
Ideally, it’s “a blend of technical expertise, strategic vision, and executive-level leadership,” Kinsey told BI.
Hiring a chief AI officer is a tough feat.
Business leaders told BI that finding the perfect candidate who ticks all the boxes for the chief AI officer role can be difficult.
“The sheer newness of this field means it’s challenging to identify a leader who has already demonstrated the breadth of capabilities to succeed in such a role,” Kinsey said.
Corporations may also need to commit to investing in this role — which Stanton Chase’s Selker says can be expensive.
“It remains to be seen how many companies are actually going to fund the implementation of the strategies — and at what level,” the executive search consultant said regarding AI.
Companies need AI expertise — or they risk being left behind
Nevertheless, recruiters say businesses should consider hiring chief AI officers if they are serious about being an AI-first company.
At the very least, they should think about the role as an expansion of the chief data officer or chief information officer, Selker said, so they understand how to use AI on a systemic level.
Creating an AI strategy that can be applied across the entire business may be what determines whether a company gets left behind, he said.
“If you’re not thinking about that already, you’re kind of screwed,” Selker said.