IT Employment

The executive suite is not so sweet

Ever think it would be great to have an executive level job? In this article John M McKee says to "be careful what you wish for," in this blog about the "life expectancy" for senior executives today.
 "Today, if your title has a letter in front of it -- like S, E, or C -- be prepared to have the lifespan of an earthworm."

A colleague of mine was making an observation. He noted that senior executives today have increasingly shorter rates of job tenure. He used statistics from the HR industry to back up his point.

It's true -- senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents, and chief-level executives (especially CMOs, but also CEOs) have an average "life span" of less than two years in many organizations. For anyone looking to move into their company's executive suite, it's a fact of life that today -- more than ever before -- a mistake or bad job performance can bring down even the most-celebrated executive.

And often with little warning.

Individuals, who previously were championed by top brass or company boards can lose their luster with just one highly visible problem. Even with great results, their performance outside the office can be equally as deadly to a career.

Said one of my clients about her firing: "It was crazy. I delivered on all my objectives for three years in a row -- in this economy! And then, for one dumb mistake, I was out before I could even try to correct it."

Fair or not, recent news highlights how the turnstile is being engaged in companies' executive suites:

1. Performance issues -- the executive overseeing Apple's hardware engineering for the IPhone and IPod is leaving. According to numerous reports, SVP Mark Papermaster has lost the confidence of CEO Steve Jobs. Papermaster had worked for Apple only about a year, coming there from IBM.

Should one mistake, even one the size of “antennagate," turn a promising career into a train wreck? When Papermaster left his former employer of over 20 years to join Apple, they clearly saw value in what he was bringing to them, or he wouldn't have had such a broad job responsibility. Was Jobs looking after the company's longer-term interests with this decision?

2. Lifestyle issues -- Hewlett Packard is currently rudderless with its stock dropping (and with that the value of the company) after the world's largest computer maker fired CEO Mark Hurd for his indiscretions.

Those "indiscretions" included falsifying expense reports, a not-so-smart relationship with a former movie actress, and a less than forthcoming approach when challenged on these.

Since taking over from former CEO Carly Fiorina, Hurd had overseen the doubling of the company's market value to about $100 billion. The company's value has dropped 10% since the announcement.

Should his errors in judgment have cost him his job? For all stakeholders, would HP be better served simply turning a blind eye to his poor choices?

3. Poor people skills -- When the CEO of oil giant BP was fired last month, few people shed tears for the guy. Tony Hayward had shown little remorse about the impact of the Gulf oil disaster. He came across as arrogant and showed little resolve to fix things quickly.

Should a guy who had the board's total support for his business acumen be blown away because he doesn't understand the importance of optics? Would BP have been better served if it had put another executive up front and center to deal with the problem (perhaps the guy who replaced him who seems to "get it"), then slap Tony on the wrist and send him out for some training?

Top management changes in the executive suite always throw a corporation into disarray.

In my work as a leadership coach, I'm often brought into an organization to help those at VP levels. However, in most companies, the higher up the food chain, the less likely it is for the board or top executives to invest in coaching to help the guy or lady get their footing back. This is when I hear comments like, "At his level, he should have known better."

That's naive -- often what got the executive promoted was great ideas and or great results not his or her awesome social skills. It would be prudent and fiscally responsible for the HR boss to invest in making their other skills just as high caliber.

Here's my advice to anyone who is trying to get into the executive suite today: Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.

Here's to your future!

John

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

30 comments
rkendsley
rkendsley

I think you meant "Hurd" here, not "Kurt". Get out the pitchfork! "Since taking over from former CEO Carly Fiorina, Kurt had overseen the doubling of the company?s market value to about $100 billion. The company?s value has dropped 10% since the announcement. "

RW17
RW17

I have absolutely no sympathy for these executives. I'll take their salary and bonus structure for two years, then the Golden Parachute package upon "firing", in a heartbeat! In fact, I see them like weathermen... no matter how much they get it wrong, who cares!? Sure, unlike weathermen, they get fired for wrong decisions, but by the time that happens they are well on thier way to the bank, laughing all the way... I trade happiness for money every single day, but my compensation will never allow me to retire after a two year stint anywhere... I'll continue to wish for the chance at the "payday" / "lottery win" / "executive suite"... and realize the sweetness is simply in the financial benefits... I know they are run ragged... but who isn't these days?

ssharkins
ssharkins

Sounds like they're living in my world now. Whether that's good or bad I can't say.

codybwheeler
codybwheeler

Sorry, but if you're a top level senior executive you should know how to avoid huge mistakes like these. That's why they pay you the millions of dollars that you make, because you're the best of the best. A small mistake here and there is ok. You're only human. But if your performance is not consistently up to par with the best of the best, you're outta here, especially if you blanket half of the world in oil.

dconnolly
dconnolly

This is very accurate. For all of you who would spite these individuals, you need to walk a mile in their shoes. I came up the hard way....programmer, then anlayst, then project leader, manager, director, then CIO of a very large organization, with 250+ reports. Some of what I saw made me sick to my stomach. I left on my own, on my terms, when I chose to do so. Do I wish I was a CIO in a very large organization again? No, I don't miss a thing. Now I am a Director in a small company. However, many of the same things exist, just on a smaller scale. You think it is easy, or great, or fun? Mostly only when the department as a group delivers something that causes the collective company jaw to drop is it fun. Most of the time it is something less, unfortunately. Most of the time I am trying to get the staff to realize their potential, get others in the business to collaborate, and look for ways that I can leverage IT to help the business, and earn the respect we are due. You want to try that?

jkameleon
jkameleon

... they don't have to give a shit about anything. The executive suite might not be so sweet, but retirement certainly is.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Papermaster's error was technological, and strikes me as excusable. One questionable product doesn't ruin the company's reputation (although the handling is another matter). Hurd and Heyward committed errors of judgment, far more damaging in the long run. Me, I've never wanted to occupy a managerial position; that isn't why I'm in IT.

Jaqui
Jaqui

Business loves the reactive model to much to switch to the much more effective PROACTIVE model you suggest. look at I.T. security policies, 99% are reactive model based. and it's a scramble to do damage control when something goes wrong. The Proactive model means things are good, and only getting better. but investing in fixing things / staff to prevent issues, that is counter to business thinking.[ the old saying of "if it ain't broke don't fix it." ] The only way to sell the proactive model is you are fine tuneing the system to improve performance.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

Once there, it's hard to go back. But it doesn't usually make you happier.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

That is actually an excellent point that wasn't much touched in the original post. With these huge payouts guaranteed to them, what is the incentive to do well?? HP's Turd, I mean, Hurd obviously violated a multitude of company policies, but he is walking away with upwards of $35 million. That's after Carly ran the company into the ground, and walked away with over $50 million. Unreal!

AOS/VS
AOS/VS

Then why are these people being promoted? I have very rarely seen a manager or c-level exec terminated or demoted even though it's plain to everyone their incompetant. These people usually get where they are because they are good at one thing and not everything they need to be good at. They should be promoted because they have worked there way up through various roles and responsabilities, including those mentioned above and show excellent competance. So no, they don't get my sympathy.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Heck, no, but don't expect sympathy for a choice you made voluntarily, and made the second time knowing it was going to be a pain. If you're not having fun, why are you doing it? Life's too short to stick yourself in a job you don't enjoy.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

For some reason the polls have always been off by one. It's easy to notice in the early voting - 5 votes, but each choice is 50%, etc. I keep meaning to start a 'Feedback' discussion on the subject. Maybe it will be fixed in TR.nextversion. Say, when's that supposed to happen, anyway?

dlovep
dlovep

No matter which level, what kind of lifestyle, if you go extreme, it's 100% gonna be SHORT. From a average joe to a newspaper header.... from robbing with weapon or robbing company by strategy.... That's about life, if you cant handle it, dont go up there, if you done mistake(s), it's your own faults, if you cant foresee anything, you're blind, dont tell me if mistakes comes up and you cant see it, if so you're 100% idiots. There isnt any perfect man for perfect job, so move on...

James.Weston
James.Weston

With the exit clauses, just make me one for a day, and sack me the next.

Ricewilliamj
Ricewilliamj

It's a complicated issue but in many cases top level officials must be fired or as they do in Japan, moved to another division. Let's take each one: SVP Mark Papermaster - The antenna disaster has been a PR nightmare. Someone has to be the scapegoat in order to restore confidence, not in Steve Jobs, but the shareholders and the public. So he has to go CEO Mark Hurd - It would have been far more intelligent to reprimand him and suspend him. This would allow the firestorm to calm itself and then reinstate him as CEO. let's not pretend the general public has a long memory. There's a long list of politicians with shady backgrounds and "forgotten" pasts. CEO Tony Hayward - For obvious reasons, he has to go in order to save BP's public image. He made everyone involved look bad. For many companies, public image is everything. Shareholders need to feel confident. The public needs to feel loved and cuddled. When guys like Pagemaster and Hayward blunder so flagrantly and try to blame everything/everyone but themselves, then for the companies sake, they have to be sacrificed.

NexS
NexS

Ha! Come to me and complain about it when you do the hard yards and knock off a couple digits from your salary. Then we'll talk.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

After the first one, everybody wanted one, and now nobody will even take the job without one, particularly the big names. The boards of directors won't stand up and say "No more" because many of them are or were CxOs in their own right. It's not about the CxO. It's not even about the shareholders. It's about the members of the board of directors. "Gentlemen, we have to protect our phoney-baloney jobs!"

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Many times that type of person is Promoted because they made a complete mess of what they where doing and to get them out of that job they have to promote them. Of course in a system like that the people who do the work and clean up after the one who make the messes never get promoted. A Typical system with the Crap raises to the top. Col

Dknopp
Dknopp

You are, or should be nicely compensated for what you do, which is to be the bow of the ship, while everyone else runs it. If you recall, before you hit the higher levels, the jobs you had before had the same long hours, lower compensation, and job instability as well. But, If you were layed off ( a distinct possibility )you got a measly couple of months pay - just enough to drag out the agony of losing your house. Your doing just fine.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If you never go there, how do you know if you can or can't handle it? I'm not saying you should be let off free if you can't, and you should be prepared to pay that price before you take the risk, but you have to consider whether the potential losses are worth the potential gain.

santeewelding
santeewelding

You make perfect sense to me. I have been trying to convince a compatriot about the genus of your message. I may forward it to him.

yechuri
yechuri

.. helps everyone get demoted to their level of competence instead.. if only all companies let the people do what they are best at...

santeewelding
santeewelding

To what anybody with half a brain has already and long made themselves aware of, moving on from there. Seems like you speak to hear yourself. No. I am not sorry to pan your input.

RogerF
RogerF

Google for "Peter Principle". Basically a person gets promoted because they have done well at a particular level. At the next level they may not be able to handle the job (to varying degrees). So the Peter Principle is that every one is promoted to their level of incompetence and no more.

Dknopp
Dknopp

My reply was supposed to be to the one you replyed to. Sorry for the mixup.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"If you recall, before you hit the higher levels, the jobs you had before had the same long hours, lower compensation, and job instability as well." First, I haven't hit the higher levels. Gods willing, I never will. Second, those early jobs were paving the way to better paying jobs I enjoy doing, not to ones I increasing disliked as I advanced. Third, if someone is willing to sacrifice his job satisfaction for money, that's his choice. Don't expect any sympathy from me.