Should a CEO be Technical?

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Technical CEO vs Business CEO

The definition of CEO on Investopia is, "the highest ranking executive in a company whose main responsibilities include developing and implementing high-level strategies, making major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company, and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and the corporate operations." It seems given this type of high level business thinking, the CEO shouldn't be necessarily techy, it probably more appropriate to be someone with a business background - an MBA or someone with prior business experience. However, with more companies continuing to have CEOs with tech backgrounds, the question should be asked - why?

In many small startups we see in the tech industry or the lean startup world, a lot of CEOs are simply the person who came up with the idea - which is often a technical person. It's sort of just a matter of convenience, a small company can't afford to hire a CEO, and/or they don't necessarily want to give up that control. Other times the CEO title is just a title that really doesn't hold the same meaning as it might for a larger corporation. The person in charge is the CEO and many times this is the tech person or founder. But does this really lead to an efficient company or, in the age of quick turn around and tight budgets for startups, is this the most practical? 

One of the things lost, with a technical person as the CEO instead of a business person, is high-level thinking. Technical CEOs are focused almost solely on the product and see the company from the product out - typically viewing creating a great product as the main goal, and they see finding a market as secondary or that the market will come from building a great product. A business CEO will focus on finding markets and managing the team; while the team focuses on the product. 

However, one of the critiques of a business focused CEO is that they do not have enough knowledge of the product. They might not have the technical ability and the product might suffer. The tech focused CEO will likely have the ability to create a great product and will understand  those intricacies but might not fully understand the market or the market potential. 

Another critique is that, if the company is founded by technical folks, they can't afford a business CEO. As startups continue to get more lean, it is often not possible to bring on a business focused person into your small company, you simply need to make due with what you have until your next round of funding.

So what do you think - should a CEO be technical to focus on the product and keep the business small, or should the CEO be business focused to draw high level thinking and find markets?