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Chiefs of Staff Make Their Way to Corporate America

Chiefs of staff are not just for politicians anymore.

CEOs and other high-level executives in the private sector are starting to employee these right-hand men and women. Public companies with chiefs of staff on the payroll, just to name a few, include Yahoo

, AOL and PoloRalph Lauren .

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While this position is clearly defined in politics as the most senior aide to an elected official, it varies greatly in corporate America, where it can be anything from a very senior adviser to the CEO to just a step above an executive assistant. Several companies, like global public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and New York-based media company iN DEMAND, give this title to young rising stars already within the ranks.

“It’s kind of like getting a crash course in how to be an executive,” explained Jameson LaMarca, chief of staff to Robert Benya, CEO of iN DEMAND.

LaMarca, a 2006 graduate of Boston University, said his job consists of three main areas: serving as the internal gatekeeper to Robert Benya and distributing communications on his behalf both internally and externally; organizing and planning internal and external events; and conducting media research. He also sits in on all senior staff meetings.

“Bob (Benya) is a great teacher,” added LaMarca. “He has done so many great things for me, including sitting me down and discussing a lot of our initiatives at a very high level, and explaining to me, being somewhat of a junior executive, the ins and outs of our company’s game plan in a way that I don’t think a lot of admins have access to.”

"It’s kind of like getting a crash course in how to be an executive.iN DEMAN" -Chief of Staff to CEO,, Jameson LaMarca

LaMarca served as executive assistant to iN DEMAND’s previous CEO before being promoted to chief of staff by Benya in 2009. He is the first person to have that title at the company.

“I think it’s very important that we do whatever we can to provide opportunities for our young, outstanding employees” said Benya. “ When you have a lot of young employees, you can experience a lot of turnover but providing unique opportunities is important to developing young people and mitigating turnover.

Burson-Marsteller has employed chiefs of staff since 2005, when Mark Penn took over as CEO. Like iN DEMAND, Burson looks to internal talent to fill this position.

“This role is a vital role for the company and for Mark, because he has so many different parts of the business to manage,” said Michele Chase, Burson’s global head of human resources.

“I think the need for senior executives is to have someone that’s thinking beyond, being proactive, able to see around corners and really has an interest in the business besides just doing administrative work for a person,” she added.

Burson already has a track record of promoting its chiefs of staffs to bigger and better positions after they serve their term. The company’s first chief of staff, for example, went on to become the vice president of marketing for one of Burson’s sister companies.

“Mark always positions it as, if you do a good job for me for two to three years as a chief of staff, the gateways are open to you,” Chase explained.

Burson’s current chief of staff, Andrew Stillman, is a 2006 Harvard graduate who worked in the company’s Seattle office for four years in a client-facing position before being tapped for the chief of staff role. He describes the job as an “intellectual assistant” to the CEO.

“The role really involves a little bit of everything,” explained Stillman. “It involves managing (Mark Penn’s) time and his priorities, really making sure he’s well-briefed on everything that he’s doing, looking forward enough to make sure that he’s prepared for everything that’s coming up in the coming weeks and months and making sure he doesn’t miss anything and uses his time as well as possible.”

Even though Stillman has only been in the position for a few months, he said the close exposure to a chief executive has been an incredible learning experience.

”I think there’s no better way to learn than by example,” added Stillman. “(I am) learning how strategic decisions are made, learning how to communicate with senior executives and just really learning what the thought processes are and how things happen.”