At some point or another, on a frustrating day at work, we’ve probably all muttered, “I could run this place so much better.” But what does it actually mean to be the president of the company? If your long-term goals include ascending the executive ladder, it’s important to know what this important figure does.
What does being “president” mean?
A president of a company is typically the primary leader of the day-to-day operations of a business, agency, institution, school, etc. Like a political president, he or she is often one of the most visible people in the organization. As a job title, “president” can also refer to department or division leaders within a company. Basically, it connotes a serious leadership role. Some presidents may be the top of the food chain, but others may report to a Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
What does a company president do?
The presidential role can vary pretty widely, depending on the industry, the type of organization, and the company’s overall structure. For example, the president of a massive Fortune 500 company likely has a much different daily work life than the president of a small, lean nonprofit.
But while the specific tasks and responsibilities of a company president vary from place to place, there are a number of common factors.
A president is typically responsible for the following duties:
Leading the company. Employees all the way up and down the org chart take their cues from the organization’s leadership. It falls to the president to set the tone and expectations for the company, including establishing mission statements and communicating values. The president sets the bar for all employees to meet and should enable communication at every level so that each employee understands where the company is going.
Managing senior staff. The president is typically in charge of the company’s other leaders (department heads, senior managers, vice presidents, or other executive-level positions). In a large company, there are often several layers of leadership, and the president is often the backstop for the most senior managers in each group.
Developing strategy. Working with senior employees, presidents are often the key driver of the company’s strategic plan for the year, including high-level budgets, forecasting, plans for growth, new initiatives, and long-term business plans.
Acting as the public face. Depending on the organization’s structure, the president may be the most visible employee in the company. When there are important announcements or public-facing issues, it’s often the president who is issuing statements or acting as a public ambassador for the company. The president may represent the organization in the community, or even at the national level.
Communicating with stakeholders. Many companies have a board of directors or shareholders or a parent company, and the president is often tasked with communicating their organization’s results, plans, and mission to those stakeholders.
What do you need to become a president?
Unless you grow your own start-up or company, there’s usually no quick or easy way to sit in the president’s chair. Most company presidents have a bachelor’s degree (at minimum) in business or in the field, and many have advanced degrees (like an MBA) as well. Presidents of academic institutions typically need a PhD.
Skills-wise, a president isn’t so much different from any other leadership role: Communication and strong social skills are essential, as are problem-solving skills. A president of the company will face problems, so being able to solve them effectively (or find resources who will) is mandatory.
Experience is typically a key factor as well. Many presidents started at the bottom—if not at this particular company, then likely in the field—and worked their way up through the ranks. Presidents usually have experience at every level and were promoted up through the industry. So if you’re looking deep into the future and setting your own personal leadership goals, it’s important to know that you can absolutely build your way into a president’s career path.
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