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Top Executives - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement may be accelerated by participation in company training programs that impart a broader knowledge of company policy and operations. Participation in conferences and seminars can expand one’s knowledge of national and international issues that influence the organization and can help the participants develop a network of useful contacts. To facilitate their promotion to an even higher level, managers who have experience in a particular field, such as accounting or engineering, may attend executive development programs geared toward their backgrounds.

Managers also can help their careers by becoming familiar with the latest trends in management and by attending national or local training programs sponsored by various executive training organizations. For example, the Institute of Certified Professional Managers offers the Certified Manager (CM) credential, which is earned by completing training and passing an exam. This certification is held by individuals at all experience levels, from those seeking to enter management careers to those who are already senior executives. Certification is not necessary for advancement, but may be helpful in developing and demonstrating valuable management skills.

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 held about 2.1 million jobs in 2008.

Job Outlook
Little to no change in employment of top executives is expected. Keen competition for jobs is expected because the prestige and high pay of these positions attract many applicants.

Job Growth
Employment of top executives—including chief executives and general and operations managers—is expected to experience little to no change from 2008 to 2018. However, because these workers are essential to running companies and organizations, projected employment of top executives will vary by industry and will generally reflect the growth or decline of that industry. For example, job growth is expected in the fast-growing health services industry, while employment declines for top executives are projected for many manufacturing industries.

Employment of top executives also will be affected by the amount of consolidation occurring in a particular industry, because some management jobs typically are lost after a merger with another company. As a business grows, the number of top executives changes less than the number of employees. Therefore, top executives are not expected to experience as much employment growth as workers in the occupations they oversee.

Keen competition is expected for top executive positions because the prestige and high pay attract a substantial 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 limits the number of job openings for new entrants to the occupation.

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, and information systems, as well as knowledge of several languages also may be beneficial.

Top executives are among the highest paid workers in the United States. However, salary levels vary substantially, depending on level of executive responsibility; length of service; and type, size, and location of the firm, organization, or government agency. For example, a top manager in a very large corporation can earn significantly more than the mayor of a small town.

Median annual wages of general and operations managers in May 2008 were $91,570. The middle 50 percent earned between $62,900 and $137,020. Because the specific responsibilities of general and operations managers vary significantly within industries, earnings also tend to vary considerably.

Median annual wages of wage and salary chief executives in May 2008 were $158,560. Some top executives of large companies earn hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $1 million annually, although salaries vary substantially by type and level of responsibilities and by industry. Government executives often earn considerably less.

In addition to salaries, total compensation for corporate executives often includes stock options and other performance bonuses. Among other benefits commonly enjoyed by top executives in private industry are the use of executive dining rooms and company-owned aircraft and cars, access to expense allowances, and company-paid insurance premiums and physical examinations. A number of chief executive officers also are provided with company-paid club memberships and other amenities. Nonprofit and government executives usually get fewer benefits.

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