Dominique Airey, client partnerships director at CUR8

How To

August 18, 2023

How to hire a chief partnerships officer

Dominique Airey, partnerships director at CUR8, talks about how to hire a partnerships lead into the C-suite, especially if you work in an emerging industry

Dominique Airey has worked in partnerships in the impact and startup world for more than a decade. Before joining carbon removal startup CUR8’s C-suite as partnerships director, Dominique founded her own carbon removal company, which was backed by Seedcamp but didn’t quite make it after struggling to raise a second round of funding. 

Here she talks about how to hire a partnerships lead into the C-suite, especially if you work in an emerging industry.

Know why you need one

If you work in a nascent industry, chances are you will need to educate customers about your industry and your product before you can sell to them. So if you can’t hard sell, you will need a softer way to get in the door. Even though it’s still a sales-focused role, a partnerships director can go to a potential customer to raise awareness. You might use a consulting or educational approach. Or you might want to explore “mutually beneficial areas”. A partnerships person can also go in without all of the answers or solutions, which is especially great if you’re an early-stage startup — you can co-create solutions with a partner.


It’s important to note that the title can often be just about semantics. In some industries “sales” or “commercial” would be the appropriate word and are interchangeable with the partnerships role — but if you’re in a new industry or one that is known to be collaborative (like climate), “partnerships” is probably the way to go.

Understand why it’s a C-suite role

The partnership person is your front line. The insights they bring back from conversations with partners and potential partners — who will be telling them exactly what they understand and don’t understand about you, what they need and don’t need and how they’re willing to work with you — will inform the commercial, product and sales strategy of the company.

It’s an especially critical role if you’re in an emerging or nascent market — they have to act as a source of truth in terms of what’s happening, changing and moving in the market. They will help you to keep an eye on where future demand is going to come from and how to ensure you’re able to meet it, in terms of having the credibility to take on the work and the right product to execute it.

Define the job

Partnership roles are intellectually stimulating because they zoom out a little bit more than traditional sales. The role can cover a whole spectrum of responsibilities:

  • The entire demand pipeline, from education around the product to closing deals
  • Consultation work with partners
  • Direct sales
  • Raising the credibility of the company by finding and engaging with the important conversations that are happening in your industry — this could be PR, working alongside thought leaders and consultancies or attending industry events
  • Hiring marketing, sales, revenue operations, analyst or even policy roles

Once you know what the role needs to cover, you can figure out the type of person you need to fill it and in which areas their skills need to weigh heavier.

Look for breadth

They will need to have (and this is not an exhaustive list):

  • A strong commercial background
  • Experience working across multiple functions, not just sales
  • Ideally, they would have built things from the ground up previously
  • Experience with cross-functional strategy work
  • Sales skills
  • Industry knowledge
  • Great communication skills for the types of partners you’re targeting
  • Policy and regulation knowledge, if relevant to your industry
  • A clear view of brand and marketing
  • An ability to close deals
  • An ability to communicate ideas succinctly internally and translate what’s been discussed with partners to the marketing or product teams and C-suite, for example

If you’re an early-stage company, you want someone entrepreneurial who can take something from 0 to 100 with minimal resources. Ideally, they should come from the startup world, rather than big tech or corporate, if you want them to hit the ground running.

On the subject of... partnerships

Getting the right partner can help you expand into new markets. “Partnering allows you to immediately leverage a solution that’s more sophisticated, more advanced and maybe even more economical,” says Dann Bibas of investment platform

 Partnerships can make your startup stronger. But your partners will have a say in how your product develops.

Looking to set up a partner programme? Here are some top tips to get you going — and some pitfalls to avoid

Anisah Osman Britton

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Startup Life , a weekly newsletter on what it takes to build a startup. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn