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Chief Executive Officer, CEO

Education and Training: MBA or Master’s degree
Average Salary: $173,350 per year
Job Outlook: Fair

A chief executive officer, or CEO, is the top executive in a corporation or company. He or she is the public “face” and provides strategic leadership and management to maximize company performance. The CEO balances and manages the needs and concerns of a number of stakeholders, including suppliers, staff, consumers, shareholders, the media and even governmental regulators.

Chief executive officers serve as leaders of the company, designers and implementers of strategy and policy, decision makers for operational issues, advisers to the board regarding topics like financial performance, company representatives to the press and governmental regulators, and executive managers of the company’s direction and overall performance.

While the CEO is the company’s top leader, how long that job lasts at the company is often directly tied to performance, such as sales or other metrics, and successful management of the company. At the same time, a chief executive officer’s specific responsibilities and powers are institutionally determined by the board of directors or other body and can vary greatly: some CEOs have rather limited responsibilities, while others have quite extensive ones. A chief executive officer reports to the board of directors.

Education and Training Requirements

Chief executive officers often have a Bachelor’s degree in Business as well as a Master’s degree in Business (MBA), where they took courses in important business areas such as management, finance, marketing, accounting, human resources and law. Instead of an MBA, other CEOs opt for an advanced degree in such fields as management, finance or law. Additional training for aspiring chief executive officers includes seminars in public speaking, negotiation and the latest management techniques.

Getting the Job

The board of directors is responsible for hiring a company’s chief executive officer. They may promote someone who is already a member of the board of directors or a top executive (like a company’s vice president) to the CEO position, or they may look to hire someone outside of the company. In the latter case, they look at a candidate’s education and past performance at other companies, especially as a CEO, but also as a member of a board of directors, a company executive or a manager. Previous and demonstrable managerial experience is the minimum requirement for being considered for a CEO job. Other factors the board of directors consider when choosing a CEO include leadership and people skills, analytical skills, decision-making abilities and public speaking ability.

Job Prospects, Employment Outlook and Career Development

Chief executive officers are the top executives in their company, for which they are paid very well and enjoy a high amount of prestige. There are some new openings each year as chief executive officers retire or change companies, but competition for these jobs is intense. Chief executive officer jobs may become slightly harder to find, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a one percent loss in these positions until 2018.

Working Conditions and Environment

Chief executive officers work in a comfortable office environment; they typically enjoy the largest office in the company and are assisted by one or more support staff. They often work long hours, which may include weekends and evenings, but at the same time they enjoy some flexibility in their schedules. Chief executive officers may be required to travel nationally or internationally to meet with local offices and important customers as well as attend high-level meetings and conferences.

Salary and Benefits

Chief executive officers enjoy very high salaries, although the exact amounts vary greatly depending on the company’s size, industry, sales volume and other factors. In 2010, the mean annual salary for CEOs was $173,350. At the same time, the bottom 10th percentile earned an annual salary of $75,160 while the average CEO at an S&P 500 company earned an annual salary of $1,093,989.

CEOs often receive additional compensation in the form of an annual bonus, stock awards, deferred compensation (e.g. pension and 401k contributions) and other awards. These types of compensation can be far greater than the base salary. For example, the average CEO at an S&P 500 company with an annual salary of $1,093,989 actually earned a total compensation package of $11,358,445 in 2010.

Where to Go for More Information

CEO Clubs
15 Broad St., Ste. 1120
New York, NY 10005
(212) 925-7911

Harvard Business School
Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
(617) 495-6000

The Board
1997 Annapolis Exchange Parkway, Ste. 300
(410) 974-9265
Annapolis, MD 21401

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesBusiness