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Top Executives - What They Do

All organizations have specific goals and objectives that they strive to meet. Top executives devise strategies and formulate policies to ensure that these goals and objectives are met. Although they have a wide range of titles—such as chief executive officer, chief operating officer, general manager, president, vice president, school superintendent, county administrator, and mayor—all formulate policies and direct the overall 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. All of these principals are closely monitored by a board of directors. In a large corporation, the chief executive officer meets frequently with the other top executives to ensure that the overall operation of the corporation is conducted in accordance with these goals and policies. In a governmental or nonprofit organization, top executives oversee budgets and ensure that resources are used properly and that programs are carried out as planned. Chief executive officers in government 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, top executives rely on a staff of highly skilled personnel.

Although the chief executive officer of a corporation retains overall accountability, a chief operating officer may be delegated several responsibilities, including the authority to oversee other executives who direct the activities of various departments and implement the organization's guidelines on a day-to-day basis. In publicly held and nonprofit corporations, the board of directors or a similar governing body ultimately is accountable for the success or failure of the enterprise and the chief executive officer reports to the board. In addition to being responsible for the operational success of a company, top executives, particularly chief financial officers, are accountable for the accuracy of their financial reporting, especially among publicly traded companies.

The nature of the responsibilities of other high-level executives depends on an organization’s size. In small organizations, such as independent retail stores or small manufacturers, a partner, an owner, or a general manager often is responsible for purchasing, hiring, training, quality control, and day-to-day supervisory duties. In large organizations, top executives not only direct the overall organization, but also may be responsible for implementing strategies and setting the overall direction of a certain area of the company or organization. For example, 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.

Chief information officers are responsible for the overall technological direction of their organizations. Today, these officers are playing a more important role in organizations and are increasingly becoming part of the executive team. To perform effectively, they need knowledge of the workings of the total organization. These managers propose budgets for projects and programs and make decisions about staff training and purchases of equipment. They hire and assign computer specialists, information technology workers, and support personnel to carry out information-technology-related projects. They manage 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.

General and operations managers plan, direct, or coordinate the operations of companies and other public- or private-sector organizations. Their duties and responsibilities include formulating policies, managing daily operations, and planning the use of materials and human resources that are too diverse and general in nature to be classified into any one area of management or administration, such as personnel, purchasing, or administrative services. In some organizations, the tasks of general and operations managers may overlap those of chief executive officers.

Work Environment
Top executives of large organizations typically have spacious offices and numerous support staff. Long hours, including evenings and weekends are standard for most top executives and general managers, although their schedules may be flexible.

To monitor operations and meet with customers, staff, and other executives, general managers and executives travel considerably among international, national, regional, and local offices. Many top executives also attend meetings and conferences sponsored by various associations. In large organizations, job transfers between local offices or subsidiaries are common for those on an executive career track.

Top executives are under intense pressure to succeed; depending on the organization, success 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.

Education & Training Required
Many top executives have a bachelor's or master’s degree in business administration, liberal arts, or a more specialized discipline. The specific type and level of education required often depends on the type of organization for which top executives work. College presidents and school superintendents, for example, typically have a doctoral degree in the field in which they originally taught or in education administration.

Some top executives in the public sector have a degree in public administration or liberal arts. Others might have a more specific educational background related to their jobs.

Many top executive positions are filled from within the organization by promoting experienced lower level managers when an opening arises. In industries such as retail trade or transportation, for example, individuals without a college degree may work their way up within the company and become executives or general managers. When hiring top executives from outside the organization, those doing the hiring often prefer managers with extensive managerial experience.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Top executives must have highly developed personal qualities and be able to communicate clearly and persuasively. An analytical mind, the ability to analyze large amounts of information and data quickly, and the ability to evaluate the relationships among numerous factors, also are important qualities. For managers to succeed, they need other important qualities as well, including leadership, self-confidence, motivation, decisiveness, flexibility, sound business judgment, and determination.

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