They make a lot of money. They’ve got power and perks. They jet halfway around the world for a meeting and are back for dinner the next day. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Good work if you can get it, right? Well, I’m not going to lie to you; it’s got it’s benefits.
So why do some give it up? Well for good reasons.
The truth is that executive life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Much of the disparity between perception and reality comes from the fact that only a tiny percentage of executives work for big companies, while the vast majority work for much smaller firms. And that makes one huge difference in lifestyle.
All the compensation surveys you hear about and much of what the media covers is focused on the Fortune or S&P 500. To put this in perspective, there are roughly 9,000 publicly traded companies in the U.S., and perhaps ten times that number of privately held corporations. That means you’re only hearing about less than one percent of the total, and if we’re talking all senior execs versus CEOs, then it’s less than one tenth of that.
Not that we should feel sorry for these people; they’re responsible for the choices they make. I’m just trying to get people to look past the media coverage and the sound bites and understand what life is really like for most executives in the real world. It’s not a winning lottery ticket. It’s hard work, stress, and lot’s of dedication.
Myth #1: Executive pay is out of control
Sure, reading an annual salary survey of S&P 500 CEOs will either give you a heart attack or make you nauseous. But the truth is that most executives work for small and midsized firms where the compensation is much more reasonable and typically not huge multiples above the next level down.
For example, some senior executives, don’t make a lot more money than some managers and individual contributors in their organizations, even at public companies. The big-ticket is usually stock options, but they’re worth zero if the company fails to go public or the stock declines in value. I can attest to both.
Myth #2: Jetting around the world is a great life
Besides working long hours, many executives are away from home at least 25 percent of the time. And while some do get to go first class, that’s the exception, not the rule. Then there’s all the time away from the family, jet lag, sleep deprivation, and the added stress of a hectic, complex life.
So many of those million milers out there live out of a suitcase a majority of the time. And many miss out on the family they are working so hard for.
Myth #3: They don’t really work; they just sit in meetings all day
Sure, top executives spend a great deal of time managing their people and in meetings, but as senior marketing, finance, HR, sales, or any officer of the company, they’re also individual contributors. That’s what accounts for the long hours. I averaged about 60 hours a week, not counting all the travel time away from home. And no, you don’t get overtime.
Bottom line: Especially these days, most executives are on 24-7, sacrifice significant family time, and experience enormous stress. Their dedication is a big part of what’s great about America and free enterprise. Just wanted to provide a different perspective.