Corporate CEOs—Some of America’s Hardest Workers

February 11, 2019

It has become fashionable for Washington politicians to bash corporate executives—their decisions, their motivations, and their personal earnings. But when you hear anti-corporate rhetoric, keep in mind that politicians themselves are often very flawed people. And remember that corporate executives have intense job demands and deliver huge work efforts that keep our economy humming.

Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School looked in detail at the daily activities of a sample of corporate CEOs and reported their findings in a recent Harvard Business Review article:

Running a large global company is an exceedingly complex job. The scope of the organization’s managerial work is vast, encompassing functional agendas, business unit agendas, multiple organizational levels, and myriad external issues. It also involves a wide array of constituencies—shareholders, customers, employees, the board, the media, government, community organizations, and more. Unlike any other executive, the CEO has to engage with them all. On top of that, the CEO must be the internal and external face of the organization through good times and bad.

… CEOs are always on, and there is always more to be done. The leaders in our study worked 9.7 hours per weekday, on average. They also conducted business on 79% of weekend days, putting in an average of 3.9 hours daily, and on 70% of vacation days, averaging 2.4 hours daily. As these figures show, the CEO’s job is relentless.

About half (47%) of a CEO’s work was done at company headquarters. The rest was conducted while visiting other company locations, meeting external constituencies, commuting, traveling, and at home. Altogether, the CEOs in our study worked an average of 62.5 hours a week.

Why such a grueling schedule? Because it is essential to the role.

… The success of CEOs has enormous consequences—good or bad—for employees, customers, communities, wealth creation, and the trajectory of economies and even societies. Being a CEO has gotten harder as the size and scope of the job continue to grow, organizational complexity rises, technology advances, competition increases, and CEO accountability intensifies.

Do corporate CEOs make mistakes? Of course, they are human. But they are very productive humans who work within a market system that generally channels their talents into producing better products at lower costs for our benefit.

Politicians are also human, but their goals are often not so productive. As James Madison lamented in 1787, legislators may have three different motivations: “1. ambition 2. personal interest. 3. public good. Unhappily the two first are proved by experience to be most prevalent.”

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