Top Executives

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Chief Executive Officer Jobs

  • President/Chief Executive Officer - Cape Abilities - Hyannis, MA

  • Chief Operating/Financial Officer - National Sawdust - Brooklyn, NY

    Qualifications • Superior leadership, management, and organizational capabilities • Strategic development, planning, and execution

  • Chief Executive Officer - United Indian Health Services - Arcata, CA

    We employ highly qualified clinical, social service and support staff professionals and are embarking on a nationwide Chief Executive Officer search

See all Chief Executive Officer jobs

Top 3 Chief Operating Officer Jobs

  • Chief Operating/Financial Officer - National Sawdust - Brooklyn, NY

    Qualifications • Superior leadership, management, and organizational capabilities • Strategic development, planning, and execution

  • Chief Operating Officer - Great Oaks Charter Schools - New York, NY

    As one of the key members of the Foundation’s Executive Committee, the Chief Operating Officer will

  • Director Neighborhood Preservation Company - Human Development Services of Westchester - Port Chester, NY

    The NPC presently serves over 400 individuals and families throughout Westchester County with a wide variety of housing and community stabilization

See all Chief Operating Officer jobs

What Top Executives Do[About this section] [To Top]

Top executives devise strategies and policies to ensure that an organization meets its goals. They plan, direct, and coordinate operational activities of companies and organizations.

Duties of Top Executives

Top executives typically do the following:

  • Establish and carry out departmental or organizational goals, policies, and procedures
  • Direct and oversee an organization's financial and budgetary activities
  • Manage general activities related to making products and providing services
  • Consult with other executives, staff, and board members about general operations
  • Negotiate or approve contracts and agreements
  • Appoint department heads and managers
  • Analyze financial statements, sales reports, and other performance indicators
  • Identify places to cut costs and to improve performance, policies, and programs

The responsibilities of top executives largely depend 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, however, top executives typically focus more on formulating policies and strategic planning, while general and operations managers direct day-to-day operations.

The following are examples of types of top executives:

General and operations managers oversee operations that are too diverse and general to be classified into one area of management or administration. Responsibilities may include formulating policies, managing daily operations, and planning the use of materials and human resources. They make staff schedules, assign work, and ensure that projects are completed. In some organizations, the tasks of chief executive officers may overlap with those of general and operations managers.

Chief executive officers (CEOs), who are also known by titles such as executive director, managing director, or president, provide overall direction for companies and organizations. CEOs manage company operations, formulate and implement 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.

There may be other types of chief executives, for example chief operating officers (COOs), chief financial officers (CFOs), or chief human resources officers, who manage a specific part of the business organization. The knowledge, skills, and job duties that these executives have will differ depending on what department they oversee.

Job titles may vary in the public sector or in the education industry. The following are examples of types of top executives working in the public sector for local and state governments:

Mayors, along with governors, city managers, and county administrators, are chief executive officers of governments. They typically oversee budgets, programs, and the use of resources. Mayors and governors must be elected to office, whereas managers and administrators are typically appointed.

Most educational systems, regardless of whether they are public or private school systems, also employ executive officers. The following are examples of top executives working in the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educational school systems:

School superintendents and college or university presidents are chief executive officers of school districts and postsecondary schools. They manage issues such as student achievement, budgets and resources, general operations, and relations with government agencies and other stakeholders.

Work Environment for Top Executives[About this section] [To Top]

Chief executives hold about 308,900 jobs. The largest employers of chief executives are as follows:

Self-employed workers 23%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 8
Government 8
Manufacturing 7
Healthcare and social assistance 7

General and operations managers hold about 2.3 million jobs. The largest employers of general and operations managers are as follows:

Retail trade 12%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 11
Manufacturing 10
Wholesale trade 8
Construction 7

Top executives work in nearly every industry. They work for both small and large businesses, ranging from companies in which they are the sole employee to firms with hundreds of thousands of employees.

Because top executives are responsible for the success of a business, the work is often stressful. Executives in charge of poorly performing organizations or departments may find their jobs in jeopardy.

Top executives frequently travel to attend meetings and conferences or to visit their company's local, regional, national, and international offices.

Top executives often spend time interacting with other high-level executives of the company, for example financial managers, human resource managers, or chief technology officers.

Top Executive Work Schedules

Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends. About half work more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Top Executive[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Top Executives near you!

Although education and training requirements vary widely by position and industry, most top executives have at least a bachelor's degree and a considerable amount of work experience.

Education for Top Executives

Many top executives have a bachelor's or master's degree in business administration or in an area related to their field of work. 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's degree in business administration (MBA).

College presidents and school superintendents are typically required to have a master's degree, although a doctorate is often preferred.

Although many mayors, governors, or other public sector executives have at least a bachelor's degree, these positions typically do not have any specific education requirements.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation for Top Executives

Many top executives advance within their own firm, moving up from lower level management occupations or supervisory positions. However, other companies may prefer to hire qualified candidates from outside their organization. Top executives who are promoted from lower level positions may be able to substitute experience for education to move up in the company. For example, in some industries, workers without a college degree may work their way up to higher levels within the company to become executives or general managers.

Chief executives typically need extensive managerial experience. Executives are also expected to have experience in the organization's area of specialty. Most general and operations managers hired from outside an organization need lower level supervisory or management experience in a related field.

Some general managers advance to higher level managerial or executive positions. Company training programs and executive development programs can often benefit managers or executives hoping to advance.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Top Executives

Some top executive positions may require the applicant to have a license or certification relevant to their area of management. For example, some employers may require their chief executive officer to be a certified public accountant (CPA).

Important Qualities for Top Executives

Communication skills. 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.

Decisionmaking skills. Top executives need decisionmaking skills when setting policies and managing an organization. They must assess different options and choose the best course of action, often daily.

Leadership skills. Top executives must be able to lead an organization successfully by coordinating policies, people, and resources.

Management skills. Top executives must shape and direct the operations of an organization. For example, they must manage business plans, employees, and budgets.

Problem-solving skills. Top executives need to identify and resolve issues within an organization. They must be able to recognize shortcomings and effectively carry out solutions.

Time-management skills. Top executives do many tasks at the same time, typically under their own direction, to ensure that their work gets done and that they meet their goals.

Top Executive Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for chief executives is $181,210. 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 percent earned less than $69,780, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wage for general and operations managers is $99,310. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wages for chief executives in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services $208,000 or more
Manufacturing 201,290
Healthcare and social assistance 150,340
Government 107,850

The median annual wages for general and operations managers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services $138,770
Manufacturing 111,770
Wholesale trade 109,070
Construction 101,960
Retail trade 72,630

Because the responsibilities of general and operations managers vary significantly among industries, earnings also tend to vary considerably.

Top executives are among the highest paid workers in the United States. However, salary levels can vary substantially. For example, a top manager in a large corporation can earn significantly more than the mayor of a small town.

In addition to salaries, total compensation for corporate 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, and membership to exclusive clubs. Nonprofit and government executives usually receive fewer of these types of incentives.

Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends. About half worked more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook for Top Executives[About this section] [To Top]

Overall employment of top executives is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Employment growth will vary widely by occupation (see table below) and industry, and is largely dependent on the rate of industry growth.

Top executives are essential for running companies and organizations and their work is central to the success of a company.

Generally, employment growth will be driven by the formation of new organizations and expansion of existing ones, which will require more managers and executives to direct these operations.

However, improving office technology and changing organizational structures have increased the ability of the chief executive officer to manage the day-to-day operations of a business. In addition, the rate of new firm creation has slowed in recent years, with economic activity and employment becoming increasingly concentrated in larger, more mature companies. The demand for chief executives is projected to decline slightly because of the expectation that these trends are likely to continue over the next ten years.

See all executive jobs.

Job Prospects for Top Executives

Top executives are expected to face very strong competition for jobs. The high pay and prestige associated with these positions attract many qualified applicants.

Those with an advanced degree and extensive managerial experience will have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for Top Executives, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Top executives 2,572,000 2,767,100 8 195,100
  Chief executives 308,900 298,200 -3 -10,700
  General and operations managers 2,263,100 2,469,000 9 205,900


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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