There are a ton of ridiculous job titles in the startup scene, but generally they’re somewhat transparent. Surely a Chief Meeting Designer must do something related to meetings and a Executive Senior Clubhouse probably spends all his time barking at Clubhouse.
So that’s why I was a little puzzled when I ran into Marian johnson – a Chief Awesome Officer. Does she go around … being awesome? Why would you pay someone for this? What the hell does a Chief Awesome Officer do ?!
“Well the first thing about the Chief Awesome Officer job is every time I show up there is a turn of laughter,” Johnson explains when I call her to bombard her with questions about her. title.
“That could actually be the strength of the title,” Johnson says. She tells me that it helps grab people’s attention and makes her and the organization more accessible by not taking herself too seriously.
Marian Johnson leads the Ministry of Awesome – yes, that’s the name – a starting point for entrepreneurs, startups and innovators in Christchurch, New Zealand. Basically, it is an independent, non-profit startup center dedicated to growing the country’s ecosystem by providing entrepreneurs with the tools they need to develop their ideas.
“The title is also meant to show that we’re zero BS… although I guess Chief Awesome Officer might sound great BS-y, but I think we’re the opposite,” Johnson adds with a laugh. “We basically laugh at ourselves with silly headlines.”
This bullshit / non-bullshit method of breaking the ice with a ridiculous title is actually quite effective and has a surprisingly deep backstory.
Back from the ashes
On February 22, 2011, as the people of Christchurch had just finished their lunch break, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the city. Most of the city center was reduced to rubble in the intense earthquake, 185 people lost their lives and thousands became homeless.
“The city center has been completely flattened. Any building that did not fall that day was then demolished later. We’ve lived in a donut outside of downtown for five solid years, ”says Johnson.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, many were forced to leave Christchurch and its population declined dramatically for some time. But the people of Christchurch were determined to rebuild their city and revitalize the community.
It is in this atmosphere that the Ministry of Awesome (MoA) was founded. The informality of the name and its supercharged positivity was meant to revive the startup ecosystem in a city reeling from a natural disaster.
Even if construction is still in progress, Christchurch is once again in full swing. When Johnson took over the MoA in 2017, the organization went from recovering from an earthquake to creating a more robust startup ecosystem across the country.
Currently, the MoA has 24 high-growth startups in its incubator program and numerous external innovation drivers where Johnson and his team connect companies and startups to solve the problems they face.
Okay, good having an exaggerated job title after a crisis – what about now?
“I thought about changing the title for a moment,” Johnson admits. “When I saw the ‘Chief Awesome Officer’ job title it reminded me of all those stupid job titles at Google and I didn’t take it seriously at all.”
Johnson could have played it safe (AKA boring) and changed him to CEO to appear more serious in the eyes of conservative organizations she should be working with, like banks and governments. But in the end, she decided to retain the title because of its rich history – and its effectiveness.
She says the title lays the foundation for a good game for her. By the time she walks into a room as Chief Awesome Officer, people already know what to expect from her and what she’s talking about.
“The title and name of the organization shows the founders that whatever their crazy idea or dream, here is an organization that is ready to support you.”
The secret to being a Chief Awesome Officer
We have established that while it may sound crazy at first, the title actually brings a lot of value to the results of the organization. But what makes a Well Chief Awesome Officer?
Johnson believes it all comes down to being an incredibly positive and energetic person, mixed with a business acumen and evangelistic skills. Oh, and “you have to say ‘awesome’ a lot,” she adds.
“Yeah, and oddly, each of us… oh, I don’t know if it’s good or bad, maybe I shouldn’t mention it?” But we’ve all been Americans, which is weird, ”says Johnson with a laugh.
Do you have some weird jargon job titles in your startup that really make sense? Let us know at [email protected]!
Published March 4, 2021 – 11:15 UTC