Large enterprises often have several levels of upper management. Some organizations have both a president and a CEO, with the CEO typically having operational responsibility and the president having more formal, public-facing responsibilities. Most larger enterprises have at least two or three vice presidents, with the VPs often serving as departmental heads. Organizations that do not have a CEO typically have a president or a general manager as the chief executive. A few organizations appoint a senior VP as the general manager with operational responsibilities and delegate government liaison, research and development, or mergers and acquisition responsibilities to other VPs.
A bachelor's degree is generally required for senior management positions, and many VPs and general managers will have earned a master's degree. Business, finance and accounting are typical undergraduate majors for business managers, but some have degrees in the social or natural sciences. Most execs choose to earn a Master of Business Administration, with a growing number choosing a focus in management information systems.
Many senior executives, such as VPs and GMs, choose to earn one or more professional or industry certifications. One of the most well-regarded certifications is the Certified Manager program offered by the Institute of Certified Professional Managers. A candidate must have a combined 10 years of education and experience to be eligible to take the CM exams. Becoming a CM requires passing three comprehensive exams within 15 months.
A VP and general manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of an enterprise. Most general managers have direct oversight over financial and accounting functions and work closely with upper management and ownership in creating budgets and contract, acquisition or merger negotiations. GMs are usually involved in developing sales strategies or production schedules. They also typically hire and supervise departmental managers, establish training programs, and help managers set and achieve departmental goals.
Pay and Prospects
Senior executives earn comfortable six-figure incomes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, general managers earned an average salary of $114,850 in 2012. General managers employed at securities and commodities exchanges earned the most, with an average salary of $199,020. Those employed in the restaurant industry came out on the low end of the pay scale at $73,080. Turnover among top executives is typically low, and the BLS is only projecting 5-percent growth for VPs and GMs from 2010 to 2020 -- lower than the 14-percent average for all other occupations.
2016 Salary Information for Top Executives
Top executives earned a median annual salary of $109,140 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, top executives earned a 25th percentile salary of $70,800, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $165,620, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 2,572,000 people were employed in the U.S. as top executives.