A chief executive devises strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals. They plan, direct, and coordinate operational activities of companies and public or private-sector organizations. Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both large and small organizations, ranging from one-person businesses to firms with thousands of employees. The job can be very stressful, and top executives often work long hours.
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The responsibilities of a chief executive largely depends on an organization’s size. For example, an owner or manager of a small organization, such as an independent retail store, often is responsible for purchasing, hiring, training, quality control, and day-to-day supervisory duties. In large organizations, on the other hand, top executives typically focus more on formulating policies and strategic planning, while general and operations managers direct day-to-day operations. Chief executives typically do the following:
The following are examples of common types of chief executives:
Chief executive officers (CEOs), who are also known by titles such as executive director, president, and vice president, provide overall direction for companies and organizations. CEOs manage company operations, formulate policies, and ensure goals are met. They collaborate with and direct the work of other top executives and typically report to a board of directors.
Chief financial officers (CFOs) are accountable for the accuracy of a company’s or organization’s financial reporting, especially among publicly traded companies. They direct the organization’s financial goals, objectives, and budgets. For example, they may oversee the investment of funds and manage associated risks.
Chief information officers (CIOs) are responsible for the overall technological direction of an organization, which includes managing the information technology and computer systems. They organize and supervise information-technology-related workers, projects, and policies.
Chief operating officers (COOs) oversee other executives who direct the activities of various departments, such as human resources and sales. They also carry out the organization’s guidelines on a day-to-day basis.
Chief sustainability officers address sustainability issues by enacting or overseeing a corporate sustainability strategy. For instance, they may manage programs and policies relating to environmental issues and ensure that the organization complies with environmental or other government regulations.
Mayors, along with governors, city managers, and county administrators, are the chief executives of governments. They typically oversee budgets, programs, and uses of resources. Mayors and governors must be elected to office, and managers and administrators typically are appointed.
School superintendents and college or university presidents are the chief executives of school districts and postsecondary schools. In addition to overseeing operations, they also manage issues, such as student achievement, budgets and resources, and relations with government agencies and other stakeholders.
Although education and training vary widely by position and industry, many top executives have at least a bachelor’s degree and a considerable amount of work experience. Many top executives have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in business administration or in an area related to their field of work. College presidents and school superintendents typically have a doctoral degree in the field in which they originally taught or in education administration. Top executives in the public sector often have a degree in business administration, public administration, law, or the liberal arts. Top executives of large corporations often have a Master of Business Administration (MBA degree).
Top executives who are promoted from lower level managerial or supervisory positions within their own firm often can substitute experience for education. In industries such as retail trade or transportation, for example, people without a college degree may work their way up to higher levels within the company and become executives or general managers.
Top executives must have related work experience. In some companies they are promoted from within their organization. However, other companies may prefer to hire from outside the organization.
Top executives must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. They must effectively discuss issues and negotiate with others, direct subordinates, and explain their policies and decisions to those within and outside the organization. Top executives also need decision-making skills when setting policies and managing an organization. They must assess different options and choose the best course of action, often daily. They must be able to lead a successful organization by coordinating policies, people, and resources.
Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both large and small businesses, ranging from one-person businesses to firms with thousands of employees. Top executives of large organizations typically have large offices and numerous support staff. However, the work of top executives is often stressful, because these workers are under intense pressure to succeed. Top executives may travel a lot to attend meetings and conferences or to visit their company’s local, regional, national, and international offices. In large organizations, executives may occasionally transfer jobs, moving between local offices or subsidiaries.
Top executives are among the highest paid workers. However, salary levels vary substantially depending on executives’ responsibilities, lengths of service, and the types, sizes, and locations of the firms, organizations, or government agencies for which they work. For example, a top manager in a large corporation can earn significantly more than the mayor of a small town.
The median annual wage for chief executives was $165,080 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $75,160, and the top 10% earned more than $166,400.
In addition to salaries, total compensation for chief executives often includes stock options and other performance bonuses. They also may enjoy benefits, such as access to expense allowances, use of company-owned aircraft and cars, club memberships, and company-paid insurance premiums. Nonprofit and government executives usually receive fewer benefits. Working long hours, including evenings and weekends, is standard for most executives and general managers. However, some have the ability to set their own schedules.