Executive MBA Salary and Career Overview

Published September 19, 2022 | Kaylyn McKenna

Executive MBA Salary and Career Overview

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Executives oversee business strategies and activities for their organizations. Professionals with strong leadership skills often pursue executive roles. A career as an executive provides opportunities to spark innovation and create change within a company.

Executives work in every industry and region, making the field a versatile career option. Because of this wide array of job settings, executives can specialize their expertise to work in particular areas: For example, they may lead a company's finance, marketing, IT, HR, or general operations.

To improve their leadership skills and management knowledge, executives can pursue an executive MBA degree. As of September 2022, graduates of executive MBA programs earn an average salary of $122,000 per year, according to Payscale.

Keep reading to learn about the job duties, career outlook, and earning potential of executive-level careers.

What Does an Executive Do?

Executives' main goal is leading their organizations. They oversee different aspects of a business, including strategic initiatives and objectives, budget, and internal leadership. These professionals' duties have a large impact on their organizations' culture and success.

Executives often interact with other executives, managers, and their companies' boards or investors. Depending on the size of the company, executives may not interact individually with all employees. However, they will generally still address the full employee population during key meetings.

Executives help companies navigate through a number of challenges. These can include organizational restructuring, financial issues, or changes in the market.

A Day in the Life of an Executive

The typical workday of an executive varies by company and industry. Many executives focus on specific areas of the business, such as marketing or financial performance.

The size of the business will also impact an executive's duties. Executives of larger organizations typically delegate tasks to lower-level employees. Executives of small organizations, however, may have a limited executive or leadership team, requiring them to take on more responsibilities.

Duties executives commonly handle include:

  • Reviewing and overseeing the organization's budget and finances
  • Communicating with investors, partners, and employees
  • Leading internal meetings
  • Providing mentorship to managers or other employees
  • Analyzing financial reports and company performance data
  • Making key decisions for the company
  • Identifying areas of opportunity for the business

Key Soft Skills for an Executive

  • Leadership: Executives must demonstrate strong leadership to motivate and support the employees in their company. An executive's leadership style directly impacts the morale and the culture of their organization.
  • Communication: Executives need to communicate clearly and strategically, both verbally and in writing. They must adapt their communication approach to different audiences, including employees and investors.
  • Decision-Making Skills: Executives make important decisions for their enterprises, sometimes under pressure or tight deadlines.
  • Change Management: Executives need to guide organizations through periods of internal and external change. This involves managing internal communication and strategic decision-making to adapt to unexpected changes in the market.

Key Hard Skills for an Executive

  • Technical Skills: Executives need to navigate the communication tools and technical systems their company uses. Specific software tools vary by organization, industry, and the executive's role.
  • Budgeting: An executive like a CFO will handle the bulk of the financial responsibilities on the executive team. However, all professionals at this level should understand how to create, track, and manage a budget, including the overall company budget or smaller budgets for specific departments and initiatives.
  • Strategic Planning: Executives must identify threats and opportunities for the company within the market. They define and plan for future objectives for the business in response to these potential opportunities and challenges.
  • Public Speaking: Executives represent their companies at conferences and other speaking engagements. They also speak at meetings with staff and their organizations' boards of investors.

How to Become an Executive

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), executives generally have five or more years of experience. As professionals gain this experience, there are several career paths they can take to land executive-level positions.

One common path involves working up the company's corporate ladder through a series of promotions. A prospective executive may move from entry-level roles into lower-level supervisory roles before advancing into higher management.

Another path to an executive career is entrepreneurship. For example, cofounders of start-ups take on executive roles as their companies grow. Even if these start-ups never become large companies, their cofounders can sometimes parlay the leadership experience they acquired into a long-term executive career at other businesses.

Some executives also pursue advanced education, including executive MBAs. Earning an MBA takes 1-2 years of full-time study. MBA programs usually offer concentrations in areas like finance, marketing, human resource management, or entrepreneurship. Aspiring executives should consider a concentration related to their desired executive role.

Executive Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS projects top executive careers will grow 6% from 2021 to 2031. However, the demand for chief executives is expected to decline 7% during that period. The decline in demand for chief executives is due to improvements in office technology and organizational restructuring. On the other hand, demand for general and operations managers, another career grouped within the BLS top executive category, is projected to grow 7% during this period.

Executives have an array of job titles, including:

  • Executive director
  • Chief executive officer
  • Chief operating officer
  • Chief finance officer
  • Chief marketing officer
  • Chief information officer
  • Vice president

Each executive role has different salary averages and expectations. Factors such as location, industry, education, and experience also influence executives' earning potential. In addition to salaries, executives often receive stock options or bonuses, which boost their total compensation.

Where Can I Work as an Executive?

Almost every company has executives, so these roles exist in every industry and region. However, salaries fluctuate across locations and sectors. Executives with a master's degree — including an executive MBA degree — may earn more than those with only a bachelor's degree.

Top Locations for Executives

California, the U.S. state with the highest population, employs the largest number of executives per state. Florida and Illinois are also among the highest-employing states. The highest-paying location for executives is Washington, D.C., which offers an average annual salary of $290,560. Hawaii and Washington state are also among the highest-paying states.

Resources for Executives

Executives can benefit from joining professional organizations. These groups offer continuing education opportunities and certifications, which help executives develop their skills and stay abreast of the latest business trends and leadership strategies.

Professional organizations are also a great way to network with other executives. Networking helps executives form partnerships with other businesses and recruit prospective employees.

Professional Organizations

  • American Management Association: AMA provides training and certification opportunities in areas like leadership, HR, and project management.
  • International Organization Development Association: IODA brings together professionals specializing in organizational development. This group provides a place for executives, academics, consultants and HR professionals to network, learn, and share ideas related to leadership, talent management, and organizational development.
  • The American Society of Association Executives: ASAE is a professional resource for association executives. The group provides training and learning opportunities related to fundraising, diversity and inclusion, leadership, and more.

Common Questions about Executive Careers

How do I prepare for an executive-level job?

Leadership work experience is typically required for executive roles. Acquiring a well-rounded education about business and leadership through a degree like an executive MBA can also help prepare leaders for executive-level jobs. Managers can often earn these executive MBAs while working full time.

How long does it take to become an executive?

Most top executives have five or more years of work experience, though sometimes it takes professionals more than 10 years to earn promotions to the executive level. Some professionals can accelerate this timeline through entrepreneurship or executive MBAs.

What are the responsibilities of an executive?

Executives are responsible for strategically managing a company. They oversee business goals, financial performance, departmental objectives, and partner or investor relations. Because there are often multiple executive roles within a company, specific duties may vary.

What makes a successful executive?

Successful executives possess strong leadership skills, business acumen, and decision-making abilities. The most successful executives are skilled at embracing and navigating change to build resilient companies.

Featured Image: Voronchuk Daria / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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