Top Executives

Quick Facts: Top Executives
2017 Median Pay $104,700 per year 
$50.34 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation 5 years or more
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 2,572,000
Job Outlook, 2016-26 8% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 193,100

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Top Executive Career, Salary, and Education Information

What Top Executives Do

Top executives often report to a board of directors.

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.

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top executives

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 directormanaging 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 governorscity 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

Chief executives held about 308,900 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of chief executives were 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 held about 2.3 million jobs in 2016. The largest employers of general and operations managers were 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 managershuman resource managers, or chief technology officers.

Work Schedules

Top executives often work many hours, including evenings and weekends. In 2016, about half worked more than 40 hours per week.

How to Become a Top Executive

Top executives typically need many years of previous work experience.

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.


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

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

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

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.

salaries for top executives

The median annual wage for chief executives was $183,270 in May 2017. 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 $68,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.

The median annual wage for general and operations managers was $100,410 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,510, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $208,000.


In May 2017, the median annual wages for chief executives in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services: $208,000 or more

Manufacturing: $208,000 or more

Healthcare and social assistance: $160,940

Government: $107,130

In May 2017, the median annual wages for general and operations managers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services: $137,950

Manufacturing: $114,330

Wholesale trade: $108,960

Construction: $101,200

Retail trade: $73,760

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. In 2016, about half worked more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook for top executives

Overall employment of top executives is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

Job Prospects

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 Chief Executives, 2016-26:

Employment, 2016: 308,900

Projected Employment, 2026: 296,800

Change, 2016-2026: -4%, -12,100


Employment projections data for General and Operations Managers, 2016-26:

Employment, 2016: 2,263,100

Projected Employment, 2026: 2,468,30

Change, 2016-2026: +9%, +205,200

Careers Related to top executives

Administrative Services Managers

Administrative services managers plan, direct, and coordinate supportive services of an organization. Their specific responsibilities vary, but administrative service managers typically maintain facilities and supervise activities that include recordkeeping, mail distribution, and office upkeep.

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers

Advertising, promotions, and marketing managers plan programs to generate interest in products or services. They work with art directorssales agents, and financial staff members.

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers plan, direct, and coordinate activities in architectural and engineering companies.

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers, often called information technology (IT) managers or IT project managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities in an organization. They help determine the information technology goals of an organization and are responsible for implementing computer systems to meet those goals.

Construction Managers

Construction managers plan, coordinate, budget, and supervise construction projects from start to finish.

Financial Managers

Financial managers are responsible for the financial health of an organization. They produce financial reports, direct investment activities, and develop strategies and plans for the long-term financial goals of their organization.

Human Resources Managers

Human resources managers plan, direct, and coordinate the administrative functions of an organization. They oversee the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff; consult with top executives on strategic planning; and serve as a link between an organization’s management and its employees.

Industrial Production Managers

Industrial production managers oversee the daily operations of manufacturing and related plants. They coordinate, plan, and direct the activities used to create a wide range of goods, such as cars, computer equipment, or paper products.

Medical and Health Services Managers

Medical and health services managers, also called healthcare executivesor healthcare administrators, plan, direct, and coordinate medical and health services. They might manage an entire facility, a specific clinical area or department, or a medical practice for a group of physicians. Medical and health services managers must direct changes that conform to changes in healthcare laws, regulations, and technology.

Sales Managers

Sales managers direct organizations' sales teams. They set sales goals, analyze data, and develop training programs for organizations’ sales representatives.

Administrative Services ManagersBachelor's degree$94,020
Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing ManagersBachelor's degree$129,380
Architectural and Engineering ManagersBachelor's degree$137,720
Computer and Information Systems ManagersBachelor's degree$139,220
Construction ManagersBachelor's degree$91,370
Financial ManagersBachelor's degree$125,080
Human Resources ManagersBachelor's degree$110,120
Industrial Production ManagersBachelor's degree$100,580
Medical and Health Services ManagersBachelor's degree$98,350
Sales ManagersBachelor's degree$121,060


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Top Executives,
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