Soldiers of the System

Soldiers of the System

You wonder how they got to be then world leaders that they are? The financial giants whose faces we see on magazine covers, on web news? How did they start? How did they get a foot on that corporate ladder to the rarified air of global wealth?

Life is not fair; get used to it.  As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.---Bill Gates

Business is a profit-driven force that drives human affairs. Corporate executives are commanders of their company of officers and workers. They make the system work. They plan, they lead, they achieve. If they fail, everyone fails. When they succeed, everyone succeeds.

Corporate executives create a good environment or a bad one. They make daily decisions affecting millions. Their choices are the direction our world moves in. Their dreams often come true, because their resources are enormous. Their good will or bad will has tremendous import for everyone.

Corporate executives are the soldiers of our system. How did they become who they are?

Their education level is often very high. Their intellectual training is sometimes measured in depth, not in years but in decades.

Corporate share is their measure of achievement. But education is almost always their ticket inside the golden door of the big companies that shape world affairs.

Top executives are among the highest paid workers; however, long hours, considerable travel, and intense pressure to succeed are common. The formal education and experience of top executives vary as widely as the nature of their responsibilities.

All organizations have specific goals and objectives. Top executives devise strategies and formulate policies. They plan. They execute plans.

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.

Confident CEO

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.

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.

In small 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.

In large organizations, the duties of 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.

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. 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. 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, chief executives rely on a staff of highly skilled personnel.

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.

Many top executives have a bachelor’s or graduate degree in business administration, liberal arts, or a more specialized discipline.

The specific degree required often depends on the type of organization for which they work. College presidents, for example, 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 trade.

Some top executives in the public sector have a background in public administration or liberal arts. Others might have a more specific background related to their jobs. For example, a health commissioner might have a graduate degree in health services administration or business administration.

Business people at a conference clapping.

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 extensive managerial experience and, therefore, hire individuals who have been managers in other organizations.

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. For managers to succeed they need other important qualities as well, including leadership, self-confidence, motivation, decisiveness, flexibility, sound business judgment, and determination.

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.

Top executives are found in every industry, but service-providing industries, including government, employed over 3 out of 4 top executives.

Employment of top executives—including chief executives, general and operations managers, and legislators—is expected to grow 2 percent from 2006 to 2016. Because top managers are essential to the success of any organization, their jobs are unlikely to be automated or off-shored to other countries. Projected employment growth of top executives varies by industry. For example, employment growth is expected to grow faster than average in professional, scientific, and technical services and about as fast as the average in administrative and support services. However, employment is projected to decline in some manufacturing industries.

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

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.

These are the true soldiers of the system. They earned their jobs through education followed by dedication. And they are among the highest paid workers in the U.S. economy.

Median annual earnings of wage and salary general and operations managers in May 2006 were $85,230. The middle 50 percent earned between $58,230 and $128,580. 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 were:

  • Architectural, engineering, and related services • $113,280
  • Management of companies and enterprises • $105,130
  • Building equipment contractors • $85,270
  • Depository credit intermediation • $85,050
  • Local government • $74,950

Median annual earnings of wage and salary chief executives in May 2006 were greater than $145,600. Some chief executives of large companies earn hundreds of thousands to over a million dollars annually, and some are billionaires. In addition to salaries, total compensation often includes stock options and other performance bonuses.

Their tools are their degrees, many with MBA’s. Their strategies are measured in shares of our global economy. The future of the earth depends upon their vision, their good or bad will, their personal values.

Corporate executive. Soldier of the system. Educated, armed with deep data resources, trained in global strategies.

Does this sound like your dream? Do you want to shape the future of economies, of personal and global wealth?

Start now. The ladder is waiting! Virtually every university can help boost you onto that first rung!

For more information on top executives, including educational programs and job listings, contact:

For more information on executive financial management careers, contact:

  • Financial Executives International, 200 Campus Dr., P.O. Box 674, Florham Park, NJ 07932.
  • Financial Management Association International, College of Business Administration, University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Ave., BSN 3331, Tampa, FL 33620.

For information about management skills development, including the Certified Manager (CM) credential, contact:

  • Institute for Certified Professional Managers, 1598 S. Main St., Harrisonburg, VA 22801.
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