“What and who is an executive?” may seem like an odd question for me to pose, and to write about.
I mean, I know what an executive is.
But I find that there’s confusion on the part of some executive job seekers about whether or not they’re actually “executives”.
Here’s something that happens to me all the time:
Job seekers at the Director, Executive Vice President or even General Manager level (clearly executives by most any definition) ask me:
“Will you consider working with me . . . even though I’m not at the executive level yet?”
I’m baffled every time.
Unless the definition of executive has shifted over the years, for all my 25-plus years as a job search and careers professional, I’ve considered someone to be an executive when they manage others and have decision-making authority.
This doesn’t necessarily mean being “a suit”. Even some CEOs (unquestionably executives) don’t wear suits.
Dictionary.com lists its first definition of the noun “executive” as:
“A person or group of persons having administrative or supervisory authority in an organization.”
How One Esteemed Expert Defines “Executive”
The late Peter F. Drucker’s seminal book on management, The Effective Executive (1967), was quoted in Fast Company article, Who Is an Executive?
“I have called “executives” those knowledge works, managers, or individual professionals who are expected by virtue of their position or their knowledge to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have impact on the performance and results of the whole.
What few yet realize, however is how many people there are even in the most humdrum organization of today, whether business or government agency, research lab or hospital, who have to make decisions. For the authority of knowledge is surely as legitimate as the authority of position. These decisions, moreover, are of the same kind as the decision of top management.
The most subordinate, we now know, may do the same kind of work as the president of the company or the administrator of the government agency, that is, plan, organize, integrate, motivate, and measure. His compass may be quite limited, but within his sphere, he is an executive.”
Job titles that I consider to be at the executive level − and those with whom I work − include:
C-suite or C-level, President, General Manager, Senior VP, VP, EVP, Senior Manager or Head, Director
What About the C-suite or C-level Executive Level?
C-suite or c-level executives are the job seekers I most often work with. The top-rung corporate “chiefs”, c-suite job titles include:
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
- Chief Experience Officer (CXO)
- Chief Operating or Operations Officer (COO)
- Chief Information Officer (CIO)
- Chief Investment Officer (CIO)
- Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
- Chief Brand or Banking Officer (CBO)
- Chief Compliance Officer (CCO)
- Chief Technology or Technical Officer (CTO)
- Chief Finance or Financial Officer (CFO)
- Chief Learning or Legal Officer (CLO)
In the Fast Company article, Your C-Suite Is Way Too Crowded, Russell Fleischer, general partner with Battery Ventures, says that “c-level fever” is sweeping its way through the corporate world.
He notes some of the newer c-level titles:
- Chief Revenue Officer (CRO)
- Chief Customer Officer (CCO)
- Chief Product Officer (CPO)
- Chief Communications Officer (CCO)
- Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)
- Chief Listening Officer (CLO)
- Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)
. . . And Even More C-level Executive Job Titles
Job Search and Career Expert Alison Doyle add to this list in an article on The Balance:
- Chief Accounting Officer (CAO)
- Chief Applications Architect (CAA)
- Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)
- Chief Contracting Officer (CCO)
- Chief Data Officer (CDO)
- Chief Development Officer (CDO)
- Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO)
- Chief Risk Officer (CRO)
- Chief Underwriting Officer (CUO)
- Chief Procurement Officer (CPO)
You see that some of the above use the same acronyms as others at the c-level, but with a different significance.
Why Are There So Many C-suite Executive Job Titles?
The reasoning for this ever-growing c-suite alphabet soup, according to Fleischer:
“Some companies like to craft new positions with fancy titles just in order to appear like they’re paying attention to a particular business function. Others use C-level titles to combat the shortage of high-level talent in sought-after fields. CEOs and recruiters figure that if they give someone a “Chief Something” title, instead of a more-traditional VP or SVP role, an on-the-fence job candidate might be more likely to sign on the dotted line.”
What do you think?
At what level does someone become an executive?
When does someone who has been contributing for several years and adding value to a company or organization get to call herself an executive?
More About Executives and Executive Job Search
My 5-part series, Think Like an Executive Resume Branding Pro