Monday, 18 January 2010

What is an Executive?

When it comes to work, I am an executive. I work in the UK media industry, where thought leaders and decision makers are famous and cherished. The humble executive remains terminally neglected like a middle child. There are thousands of executives throughout the country, so what exactly do they do?

According to its true definition, an executive is an all powerful entity:


1. a person or group of persons having administrative or supervisory authority in an organization.

2. the person or persons in whom the supreme executive power of a government is vested.

In business, executives are unfortunately more akin to their adjective description. The doers, rather than thinkers or leaders. “Of, pertaining to, or suited for carrying out plans, duties, etc.: executive ability”

We’re not the lowest rung on the ladder – wide eyed, ambitious and power crazed graduates - and we’re not managers of teams or groups. Executives are typically twenty-somethings being paid a fair enough wage to enjoy themselves in the big city, yet underneath every executive lies a quiet discontent. The unfulfilled potential of being a ‘doer’ not a thinker and the fact we have not been fast-tracked as hoped. The eagerness of youth has departed us, and the cynicism about this most Machiavellian industry has taken hold.

I don’t want to sound bitter, it's just that most of all, we are a group confused by opportunities - the quarter life crisis. If working with famous brands and sexy advertising is not the promised land we thought it was, then what is? Many execs are still harbouring vague ambitions to travel, set up their own business or just contribute something noteworthy before the regularity of family life dictates stability and security. Executives are a breed in a vacuum between the ambition of youth and the monotony of family life.

Looking at the term ‘executive’ led me to think about other job titles. In a world where it is judged that 85% of your lasting impression of someone is built up in the first 15 seconds of meeting them, your job title can be pretty important. It is supposed to have two components. These are firstly what you do, and how senior you are. For example Research Manager.

Ironically, executives are often missing the second component of the job title, as if simply describing what they do defines their role. For example an Account Planner is an executive as they plan . . . they do. In my relatively short time in media I have seen a plethora of ridiculous job titles. Media is essentially a sales industry where everyone is trying to sell products, services or concepts to others in the same space.

Futures Analyst
Marcomms Planning specialist
Chief Strategy Officer
Vice President of Communication
Self Facilitating Media Node

We’ve seen them all . . . well, OK the last one is borrowed from Nathan Barley, but the fact remains that in a business world all about selling yourself, Executive is a wooley title that demands little respect and is remains non-descript.