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On Hiring and Scoping Your New Chief AI Officer (CAIO)

Earlier this year, Fast Company’s Dylan Fox wrote Why Every Fortune 500 Business Needs a Chief AI Officer, “Rather than being applied to isolated use cases as an afterthought, AI must be built into the strategic direction of any company and must be considered a fundamental part of the road map; which necessitates the hiring of a chief AI officer (CAIO).”
Aron Kressner

This trend, while still a likely outcome, has yet to truly take hold across industries. Many of today’s top tech companies have assigned key AI positions (see list below) but even the tech elite have yet to assign executive titles to these positions. Outside the tech sector, there have been even fewer top AI positions minted.

One of the fastest brands to jump on the opportunity is 140 years young Coca-Cola. Coke’s new global head of generative AI is Pratik Thakar. A long-time creative professional and agency strategist, his first public-facing AI initiative took form in August at the Atlanta HQ, a three-day event called Create Real Magic.

Speaking with The Drum’s Webb Wright, Thakar says:

“Right now, [my priority is to] focus on consumer-facing technology and then create those experiences which can be scaled, which can help to build towards a marketing transformation for the company. The recent Real Magic Creative Academy is a perfect example – we brought our partners and different collaborators together to work on real-world briefs. [My goal is to] bring a future-facing technology together with the best creators across the world and create this ecosystem.” Also in attendance were representatives from Nvidia, a leader in AI tech especially hardware, and Bain & Company, the consultative arm of the Bain universe that helps the world’s most ambitious change makers define the future.”

Bain itself has already cemented its own relationships with OpenAI, embedding OpenAI technologies into its internal knowledge management systems, research, and processes to improve efficiency. The rewards of pioneering its own AI-based innovations include a client-facing partnership with Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI, “Complementing our previously announced global services alliance with OpenAI, our partnership with Microsoft enhances our ability to meet the sharp rise in demand for AI-powered services and innovation. The Microsoft Azure OpenAI service allows businesses to integrate their enterprise data with preexisting language models to address a wide variety of business use cases in a trusted and secure environment.”

Both Coca-Cola and Bain tout an ecosystem approach. Naturally, Coke is focused first on creative branding initiatives while Bain + Microsoft take a broader view across telcos, banks, finance, utility and marketing, also with a content and customer focus highlighting customer experiences for brands like Carrefour.

Top AI Appointments in Tech

In contrast to the examples above, many of today’s top tech firms have started the process of forming the AI/ML brass that make up the apparatus that will ultimately lead the enterprise on all things artificial intelligence.

Google: Jeff Dean, Senior Fellow at Google AI; Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist at Google AI.

Microsoft: Eric Horvitz, Chief Scientific Officer at Microsoft; Harry Shum, Executive Vice President of AI at Microsoft.

Meta: Yann LeCun, Chief AI Scientist at Meta; Joelle Pineau, Director of AI Research at Meta.

Amazon: Matt Wood, Vice President of Applied Science at Amazon Web Services; Svetlana Kharlap, Vice President of AI and Machine Learning at Amazon.

Apple: John Giannandrea, Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence at Apple; Ruslan Salakhutdinov, Vice President of AI and Machine Learning at Apple.

According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, the number of AI executives at Fortune 500 companies has increased by 75% in the past two years. The study also found that the majority of AI executives come from a background in engineering or technology, though a growing number of them have a background in business or other disciplines.

Ultimately, the CAIO should be a member of the executive leadership team and report directly to the CEO. This is a new and challenging role, but it is essential for companies that want to stay competitive in the age of AI. Whether they build a full team to disperse throughout the organization, or they set a top-down agenda and partner with the Bains and McKinseys of the world, AI is becoming a central function of the modern enterprise.

Scoping the office of the CAIO

A CAIO is a C-suite executive responsible for overseeing an organization’s AI strategy, implementation, and utilization. That is the essence of the position. They can approach this mandate by hiring from without, training up the existing tech and engineering teams, building the ecosystem, or any mix therein.

The CAIO role is needed to ensure that AI is integrated seamlessly into existing workflows, to make informed decisions regarding AI investments and partnerships, clarifying long-term AI strategies, and addressing ethical concerns around data privacy and bias. Whether the CAIO should be a technologist or a business executive, they must be capable of developing and implementing an AI strategy that aligns with the organization’s overall business goals, first.

Over time, that might include redefining the overall business goals, perhaps offering AI services to others, having already established and secured a clearly defined market position. Of course, this is very likely going to be the result of collaborating with other C-suite executives to ensure that AI is integrated across all business functions.

It is a rare and unique individual who already possesses the AI skills required to fill such a lofty role – from strategy to deployment – one such candidate in this field is Dr. Richard Kerr. Dr. K is that rare, transformational talent who can see the business case, manage a team, and own execution as a CAIO for hire.

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