Top Executives

Top executives are the financial, strategic, investment, planning, public relations, administrative, development, and operations heads of their organizations. Chief Financial Officer, Chief Executive Officer, President, General Manager, Director, Controller, Treasurer, Chancellor, Owner, and Partner are all examples of top executive titles. Top executives are found in both private and public institutions, government, and for-profit and non-profit organizations.

The specific responsibilities of top executives vary according to their position and the nature of their business, but common duties including setting policy, supervising subordinate managers, overseeing budgets, meeting with other industry executives, long-range planning, monitoring programs, establishing committees and boards, delegating responsibility to lower-level employees, developing institutional strategies, and in some cases financial reporting.


In smaller organizations, top executives may handle day-to-day operations, financial transactions, and hiring and training a variety of employees. In larger institutions, where top level executives have a support staff, duties may be more supervisory, with emphasis placed either on a specific department like information systems, finances or operations or on steering the overall success of the institution.

Generally, top executives work long hours, but with somewhat flexible schedules. Evening and weekend meetings and travel are common, and pressure is considerable, since these individuals are ultimately accountable for an organization’s success. Most top executives spend a majority of their time in an office setting, punctuated by local, regional, and/or international travel.

Education, Training, and Essential Skills

Formal education for top executives is highly variable, since the position can be held by an independent business owner with two employees or the head of a massive organization that employs thousands. The size of the business is also not an indicator of the educational background of its top executives, as highly technical start-up companies may have only one or two employees.
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Generally, for most top executives, a bachelor’s degree in business administration or liberal arts is a valuable tool, ensuring the basic mathematical, economic, and critical thinking skills required for these positions. For positions in medical, healthcare, educational, and technical fields, a bachelor’s degree or advanced degree may be required.

Regardless of a top executive’s formal education, extensive business and managerial or supervisory experience is essential. Additionally, successful top executives have strong communication and leadership skills, business acumen, decision-making strengths, resilience, flexibility, and increasingly, computing skills.

Advancement and Professional Development Opportunities

Top executives generally advance through promotion from subordinate managerial positions in their organizations or from other businesses. For individuals who wish to advance within their company, continuing education or company-sponsored development and training are a must. Additionally, managers seeking promotion can get a competitive edge by certification from executive training organizations like the Institute of Certified Professional Managers.

Individuals who start their own businesses automatically become top executives, and those with extensive experience can earn higher rates and more flexibility by becoming industry consultants. Chief executives also often become members of a board of directors, which may give them additional pay or a larger participatory stake in their business’ future.

Outlook and Income

Job opportunities for top executives are projected to hold steady over the next decade, with demand varying along with expansion and consolidation in specific industries. Managers with extensive experience, significant accomplishments, and successful track records will have the best opportunities in a competitive job market. Multilingual skills are also increasingly a resume plus.

The median annual salary for top executives varies broadly depending on the type and size of the organization. Top executives may earn anywhere from tens of thousands to over a million dollars annually. In general, government executives earn less than those in other fields. In addition to salaries, most top executives enjoy stock options, bonuses, health benefits, company automobiles, memberships, and other perquisites.