The chairman or chairwoman, or simply the chair, sometimes known as chairperson, is the highest officer of an organized group such as a board, a committee, or a deliberative assembly. The person holding the office is typically elected or appointed by the members of the group. The chair presides over meetings of the assembled group and conducts its business in an orderly fashion. When the group is not in session, the officer's duties often include acting as its head, its representative to the outside world and its spokesperson.
Other terms sometimes used for the office and its holder include chair, chairperson, chairwoman, presiding officer, president, moderator, facilitator, and convenor. The chairman of a parliamentary chamber is often called the speaker.
The term chair is sometimes used in lieu of chairman, in response to criticisms that using chairman is sexist. It is commonly used today, and has been used as a substitute for chairman since the middle of the 17th century, with its earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary dated 1658-9, only four years after the first citation for chairman.
In his 1992 State of the Union address, then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush used "chairman" for men and "chair" for women. A 1994 Canadian study found the Toronto Star newspaper referring to most presiding men as "chairman", and to most presiding women as "chairperson" or as "chairwoman". The Chronicle of Higher Education uses "chairman" for men and "chairperson" for women. An analysis of the British National Corpus found chairman used 1,142 times, chairperson 130 times and chairwoman 68 times. The National Association of Parliamentarians does not approve using "chairperson". The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and United Press International all use "chairwoman" or "chairman" when referring to women, and forbid use of "chair" or of "chairperson" except in direct quotations. In World Schools Style debating, male chairs are called "Mr. Chairman" and female chairs are called "Madame Chair". The FranklinCovey Style Guide for Business and Technical Communication, as well as the American Psychological Association style guide, advocate using "chair" or "chairperson", rather than "chairman". The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style suggests that the gender-neutral forms are gaining ground. It advocates using "chair" to refer both to men and to women.
In the United States, the presiding officer of the "lower" house of a legislative body, such as the House of Representatives, is frequently titled the Speaker, while the "upper" house, such as the Senate, is commonly chaired by a President.
The word chair can refer to the place from which the holder of the office presides, whether on a chair, at a lectern, or elsewhere. During meetings, the person presiding is said to be "in the chair", the person is also referred to as "the chair." Parliamentary procedure requires that members address the "chair" rather than the "chairman", or by using a person's name - one of many customs intended to maintain the presiding officer's impartiality and to ensure an objective and impersonal approach.
Major dictionaries state that the word derives from "chair" (a seat or office of authority) and "man", a person. Some authorities, however, including Riddick's Rules of Procedure, suggest that the second part of chairman derives from the Latin manus ("hand"), and thus claim gender-neutrality for the word.
"Chairman" as a quasi-title gained particular resonance when socialist states from 1917 onwards shunned more traditional leadership labels and stressed the collective control of soviets (councils or committees) by beginning to refer to executive figureheads as "Chairman of the X Committee". Vladimir Lenin, for example, officially functioned as the head of Soviet Russia not as tsar or as president but in roles such as "Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Russian SFSR". Note in particular the popular standard method for referring to Mao Zedong: "Chairman Mao" (officially: First Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China).
Vice chairman and deputy chairman
A vice-chairman (or deputy chairman), subordinate to the chairman, is sometimes chosen to assist the chairman and to serve as chairman in the absence of the chairman, or when a motion involving the chairman is being discussed. In the absence of the chairman and vice chairman, groups sometimes elect a chairman pro tempore to fill the role for a single meeting. In some organizations that have both titles, deputy chairman ranks higher than vice chairman, as there are often multiple vice chairs but only a single deputy chair. This type of Deputy Chairman title on its own usually has only an advisory role and not an operational one (such as Ted Turner at Time Warner).
An unrelated definition of vice chair describes an executive who is higher ranking or has more seniority than an executive vice president. Sometimes, EVPs report to a vice chair, who in turn reports directly to the CEO (so vice chairs in effect constitute an additional layer of management), other vice chairs have more responsibilities but are otherwise on an equal tier with EVPs. Executive vice chairmen are usually not on the board of directors. The Royal Bank of Canada previously used "vice chair" in their inner management circle until 2004 but have since renamed them group head.
There are four types of chairman in public corporations.
- Chairman and CEO – The CEO may also hold the title of chairman, in which case the board frequently names an independent member of the board as a lead director.
- Chair and CGO – An office that differs from CEO. The Chief Governance Officer is a position that ensures that governance processes are being followed within an organization, and strives for best practices. This position is common in a policy governance model.
- Executive chairman – An office separate from that of CEO, where the titleholder wields influence over company operations, such as Steve Case of AOL Time Warner, Larry Ellison of Oracle and Douglas Flint of HSBC. In particular, the group chairmanship of HSBC is considered the top position of that institution, outranking the chief executive, and is responsible for leading the board and representing the company in meetings with government figures. Prior to the creation of the group management board in 2006, HSBC's chairman essentially held the duties of a chief executive at an equivalent institution, while HSBC's chief executive served as the deputy. After the 2006 reorganization, the management cadre ran the business, while the chairman oversaw the controls of the business through compliance and audit and the direction of the business.
- Non-executive chairman – also a separate post from the CEO, unlike an executive chairman, a non-executive chairman does not interfere in day-to-day company matters. Across the world, many companies have separated the roles of chairman and CEO, often resulting in a non-executive chairman, saying that this move improves corporate governance.
The non-executive chairman's duties are typically limited to matters directly related to the board, such as:
- Chairing the meetings of the board.
- Organizing and coordinating the board's activities, such as by setting its annual agenda.
- Reviewing and evaluating the performance of the CEO and the other board members.
Many U.S. companies have an executive chairman, and this method of organization is sometimes called the American model. Having a non-executive chair is common in the United Kingdom and Canada, and is sometimes called the British model. Expert opinion is rather evenly divided over which is the preferable model overall.
- Board of directors
- European company law
- Executive director
- German company law
- Non-executive director
- Parliamentary procedure in the corporate world
- UK company law
- US corporate law
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- Although convener means someone who summons (convenes) a meeting, the convener may take the chair. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition 1989) offers this citation: 1833 Act 3–4 Will. IV, c. 46 §43 "The convener, who shall preside at such committee, shall be entitled to a casting vote." This meaning is most commonly found in assemblies with Scottish heritage.
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... responsibilities of the Lord Speaker include chairing the Lords debating chamber,...
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[...] Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Molotov and Abel Yenukidze [...] began discussing the structure of the new government. Lenin did not want to have 'ministers' as such, so Trotsky suggested that they should be called 'Peoples' Commissars'. The government itself would be the 'Council of People's Commissars' and its chairman would be prime minister, in effect.
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On 26 October 1917 Lenin announced the creation of the 'Council of People's Commissars', having rejected the traditional title of 'minister' as being too 'bourgeois', and named himself the 'Chairman of the Council'.
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- Alice Sturgis; American Institute of Parliamentarians (2001). "19 Officers: The President ...". The standard code of parliamentary procedure (Fourth ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. pp. 162–165. ISBN 978-0-07-136513-0.