Occupational Outlook: Top
- Keen competition is expected because the prestige and
high pay attract a large number of qualified applicants.
- Top executives are among the highest paid workers;
however, long hours, considerable travel, and intense pressure to succeed
- The formal education and experience of top executives
vary as widely as the nature of their responsibilities.
Nature of the Work
All organizations have
specific goals and objectives that they strive to meet. Top executives devise
strategies and formulate policies to ensure that these objectives are met.
Although they have a wide range of titles—such as chief executive officer,
chief operating officer, board chair, president, vice president, school superintendent,
county administrator, or tax commissioner—all formulate policies and direct the
operations of businesses and corporations, public sector organizations,
nonprofit institutions, and other organizations.
A corporation’s goals and
policies are established by the chief executive officer in collaboration
with other top executives, who are overseen by a board of directors. In a large
corporation, the chief executive officer meets frequently with subordinate
executives to ensure that operations are conducted in accordance with these
policies. The chief executive officer of a corporation retains overall
accountability; however, a chief operating officer may be delegated
several responsibilities, including the authority to oversee executives who
direct the activities of various departments and implement the organization’s
policies on a day-to-day basis. In publicly held and nonprofit corporations,
the board of directors ultimately is accountable for the success or failure of
the enterprise, and the chief executive officer reports to the board.
The nature of other
high-level executives’ responsibilities depends on the size of the
organization. In large organizations, the duties of such executives are highly
specialized. Some managers, for instance, are responsible for the overall
performance of one aspect of the organization, such as manufacturing,
marketing, sales, purchasing, finance, personnel, training, administrative
services, computer and information systems, property management,
transportation, or legal services. (Some of these and other management
occupations are discussed elsewhere in this section of the Handbook.)
In smaller organizations,
such as independent retail stores or small manufacturers, a partner, owner, or
general manager often is responsible for purchasing, hiring, training, quality
control, and day-to-day supervisory duties.
Chief financial officers direct the
organization’s financial goals, objectives, and budgets. They oversee the
investment of funds and manage associated risks, supervise cash management
activities, execute capital-raising strategies to support a firm’s expansion,
and deal with mergers and acquisitions.
responsible for the overall technological direction of their organizations.
They are increasingly involved in the strategic business plan of a firm as part
of the executive team. To perform effectively, they also need knowledge of
administrative procedures, such as budgeting, hiring, and supervision. These
managers propose budgets for projects and programs and make decisions on staff
training and equipment purchases. They hire and assign computer specialists,
information technology workers, and support personnel to carry out specific
parts of the projects. They supervise the work of these employees, review their
output, and establish administrative procedures and policies. Chief information
officers also provide organizations with the vision to master information
technology as a competitive tool.
Chief executives have overall responsibility for the
operation of their organizations. Working with executive staff, they set goals
and arrange programs to attain these goals. Executives also appoint department
heads, who manage the employees who carry out programs. Chief executives also
oversee budgets and ensure that resources are used properly and that programs
are carried out as planned.
Chief executive officers
carry out a number of other important functions, such as meeting with staff and
board members to determine the level of support for proposed programs. In
addition, they often nominate citizens to boards and commissions, encourage
business investment, and promote economic development in their communities. To
do all of these varied tasks effectively, chief executives rely on a staff of
highly skilled personnel. Executives who control small companies, however,
often do this work by themselves.
General and operations
direct, or coordinate the operations of companies or public and private sector
organizations. Their duties include formulating policies, managing daily
operations, and planning the use of materials and human resources, but are too
diverse and general in nature to be classified in any one area of management or
administration, such as personnel, purchasing, or administrative services. In
some organizations, the duties of general and operations managers may overlap
the duties of chief executive officers.
In addition to being
responsible for the operational success of a company, top executives also are
increasingly being held accountable for the accuracy of their financial
reporting, particularly among publicly traded companies. For example, recently
enacted legislation contains provisions for corporate governance, internal
control, and financial reporting.
typically have spacious offices and numerous support staff. General managers in
large firms or nonprofit organizations usually have comfortable offices close
to those of the top executives to whom they report. Long hours, including
evenings and weekends, are standard for most top executives and general
managers, although their schedules may be flexible.
Substantial travel between
international, national, regional, and local offices to monitor operations and
meet with customers, staff, and other executives often is required of managers
and executives. Many managers and executives also attend meetings and
conferences sponsored by various associations. The conferences provide an
opportunity to meet with prospective donors, customers, contractors, or government
officials and allow managers and executives to keep abreast of technological
and managerial innovations.
In large organizations, job
transfers between local offices or subsidiaries are common for persons on the
executive career track. Top executives are under intense pressure to succeed;
depending on the organization, this may mean earning higher profits, providing
better service, or attaining fundraising and charitable goals. Executives in
charge of poorly performing organizations or departments usually find their
jobs in jeopardy.
Qualifications, and Advancement
formal education and experience of top executives vary as widely as the nature
of their responsibilities. Many top executives have a bachelor’s or higher
degree in business administration or liberal arts. College presidents typically
have a doctorate in the field in which they originally taught, and school
superintendents often have a master’s degree in education administration. A
brokerage office manager needs a strong background in securities and finance,
and department store executives generally have extensive experience in retail
Some top executives in the
public sector have a background in public administration or liberal arts.
Others might have a background related to their jobs. For example, a health
commissioner might have a graduate degree in health services administration or
Many top executive
positions are filled from within the organization by promoting experienced,
lower-level managers when an opening occurs. In industries such as retail trade
or transportation, for instance, it is possible for individuals without a
college degree to work their way up within the company and become managers.
However, many companies prefer that their top executives have specialized
backgrounds and, therefore, hire individuals who have been managers in other
Top executives must have
highly developed personal skills. An analytical mind able to quickly assess
large amounts of information and data is very important, as is the ability to
consider and evaluate the relationships between numerous factors. Top
executives also must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. Other
qualities critical for managerial success include leadership, self-confidence,
motivation, decisiveness, flexibility, sound business judgment, and
Advancement may be
accelerated by participation in company training programs that impart a broader
knowledge of company policy and operations. Managers also can help their
careers by becoming familiar with the latest developments in management
techniques at national or local training programs sponsored by various industry
and trade associations. Managers who have experience in a particular field,
such as accounting or engineering, may attend executive development programs to
facilitate their promotion to an even higher level. Participation in
conferences and seminars can expand knowledge of national and international
issues influencing the organization and can help the participants develop a
network of useful contacts.
General managers may
advance to a top executive position, such as executive vice president, in their
own firm or they may take a corresponding position in another firm. They may
even advance to peak corporate positions such as chief operating officer or
chief executive officer. Chief executive officers often become members of the
board of directors of one or more firms, typically as a director of their own
firm and often as chair of its board of directors. Some top executives
establish their own firms or become independent consultants.
executives held about 2.3 million jobs in 2004. Employment by detailed
occupation was distributed as follows:
and operations managers
Top executives are found in
every industry, but service-providing industries, including government, employ
8 out of 10.
competition is expected for top executive positions because the prestige and
high pay attract a large number of qualified applicants. Because this is a
large occupation, numerous openings will occur each year as executives transfer
to other positions, start their own businesses, or retire. However, many
executives who leave their jobs transfer to other executive positions, a
pattern that tends to limit the number of job openings for new entrants.
Experienced managers whose
accomplishments reflect strong leadership qualities and the ability to improve
the efficiency or competitive position of an organization will have the best
opportunities. In an increasingly global economy, experience in international
economics, marketing, information systems, and knowledge of several languages
also may be beneficial.
Employment of top
executives—including chief executives and general and operations managers—is
expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through 2014.
Because top managers are essential to the success of any organization, their
jobs are unlikely to be automated or to be eliminated through corporate
restructuring—trends that are expected to adversely affect employment of
lower-level managers. Projected employment growth of top executives over the
2004-14 period varies by industry. For example, employment growth is expected
to be much faster than average in professional, scientific, and technical
services and in administrative and support services. However, employment is
projected to decline in some manufacturing industries.
executives are among the highest paid workers in the U.S. economy. However,
salary levels vary substantially depending on the level of managerial
responsibility; length of service; and type, size, and location of the firm.
For example, a top manager in a very large corporation can earn significantly
more than a counterpart in a small firm.
Median annual earnings of
general and operations managers in May 2004 were $77,420. The middle 50 percent
earned between $52,420 and $118,310. Because the specific responsibilities of
general and operations managers vary significantly within industries, earnings
also tend to vary considerably. Median annual earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of general and operations managers in May 2004
systems design and related services
of companies and enterprises
Median annual earnings of
chief executives in May 2004 were $140,350; although chief executives in some
industries earned considerably more.
Salaries vary substantially
by type and level of responsibilities and by industry. According to a 2005
survey by Abbott, Langer, and Associates, the median income of chief executive
officers in the nonprofit sector was $88,006 in 2005, but some of the highest
paid made more than $700,000.
In addition to salaries,
total compensation often includes stock options, dividends, and other
performance bonuses. The use of executive dining rooms and company aircraft and
cars, expense allowances, and company-paid insurance premiums and physical
examinations also are among benefits commonly enjoyed by top executives in
private industry. A number of chief executive officers also are provided with
company-paid club memberships and other amenities.
executives plan, organize, direct, control, and coordinate the operations of an
organization and its major departments or programs. The members of the board of
directors and lower-level managers also are involved in these activities. Many
other management occupations have similar responsibilities; however, they are
concentrated in specific industries or are responsible for a specific
department within an organization. A few examples are administrative services
managers; education administrators; financial managers; food service managers;
and advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers.
Legislators oversee their staffs and help set public policies in Federal, State,
and local governments.
Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics