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Careers in General Management

A general manager typically works inside a corporation with the job of getting people working for you to do what you want. As a general manager you are a leader of people in an organization. You are a visionary and can see the big picture. You are able to inspire and motivate your troops to embrace the organization's goals and vision. You let your troops have responsibility and hold them accountable for their jobs. You care about the organization as a team, keep morale high, and maintain a high energy level. You are also concerned about meeting goals, maintaining efficiency and dealing with performance problems.

A career in management is one of the classics in our economy. It's the role memorialized in movies like "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit". Or, more recently, satirized in the TV show, The Office. A good general manager has the opportunity to rise in an organization through a succession of roles. You may start off fresh out of college or an MBA program in an associate role with limited responsibility. Before long, you move on to manager, then director, then VP. From there, the air is a little more rarefied and, if you're really good (and lucky), you may have a shot at the top job of CEO.

Skilled managers are always in demand. This is one the reasons that a good manager can expect great compensation and opportunities to move across companies if wanted. The best general managers are among the highest paid people in business. When working at the top, executive managers generally enjoy good perks and work on the highest level strategic decisions such as what markets to pursue, how to allocate resources, what products and services to sell etc. Typical senior titles include Chief Operating Officer, Division President, President and CEO.

There are many styles of leadership: detail-oriented, charismatic, delegative etc. It will be important for you to find the style that works for you and those around you. You'll need to identify your strengths and weaknesses early on - and deal with them.

While not required, it is increasingly expected that a leader in a larger company will have an MBA degree. An MBA is a huge plus as it gives you an opportunity to gain both a broad business knowledge base, cement your communications and analytical skills and to build a professional network. Networks are incredibly important in business - both in getting the right management job, but also in holding down the position and rising to the top. There are some who describe close-knit business groups as "tribal". Where literal or not, you will do better in the world of general management if you have strong social skills and are able to build an effective social network (a good reason to go out and socialize!). Today, business networking has increasingly gone virtual through services such as LinkIn.

It is very helpful to be comfortable in a diverse workplace. Workplaces in large corporations are increasingly diverse with people of all social backgrounds, ethnicities and nationalities. It's important to be worldly, to have travelled internationally and to understand the breadth of people and cultures.

There is no typical career path in management. Some managers jump around, others start in roles such as CFO, scientist or Chief Counsel. Some work their way up an organization for an entire career.

It's important to recognize the pro's and con's of general management as a career. We've mentioned some key pro's already including good pay, the opportunity to make an impact, the opportunity to get broad exposure and to work with people. The con's are also important and include: (1) generally a slower moving career path than professions such as consulting or investment banking, (2) political and frustrating - that people management can turn into factionalization and angst, (3) risky - few make it to the top and (4) cubicle insanity - you may find yourself in a cubicle adhering to rules that make little sense, sometimes restricted by needless rules and resource constraints.

There is a lot to think about if you're interested in a career in general management. Unlike a discipline such as finance or HR, you need to have the full package of skills to succeed in this area. You need to be both analytically strong, generally intelligent and great with people. It's a stressful position where there will be nowhere to hide but one that can be incredibly fulfilling.

Thanks for visiting us here at Careers in Management. Feel free to browse the resources below and good luck in your job search!

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“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.



Off of a Whiteboard of a Corporate VP - July 2009

"Win all you want by yourself. However, never lose one by yourself."

"I am the salt in the wounds."

"Sometimes you have to base your answer on some data."

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