An executive summary is usually a one-page outline of a longer memo, business plan, news release, legal agreement or any important document. The executive summary should communicate the why, what and how of the issue in a concise manner for a busy executive who does not have time to delve into details. You must assume that while the reader is interested in the issue and understands the broader concepts involved, he or she is not intimately familiar with the details. As a general rule, the reader should be able to converse intelligently about the subject after reading the executive summary.
Describe clearly in the first paragraph what has happened and why it has happened. The reader of an executive summary will likely be a busy manager who deals with a wide variety of issues and juggles multiple projects at all times. You must therefore spell out the fundamentals and re-orient the reader before getting into the more minute details. For instance, the opening of the summary may say: "This report details the supplier agreement signed on May 21 to set prices and delivery schedules of the tires to be purchased from Tires Inc. for the upcoming year." This opening will help the reader recall that an agreement was due for the tire supply and serve as a quick mental warm-up drill.
List all the major points in the agreement, ideally in distinct bullet points. Bullet points are easier to read and absorb as they break down a complex issue into easily digestible bits. The bullet points should communicate the basics of the agreement, rather than exceptions, special clauses or technical details. The executive who does not deal with tires every day will perhaps want to know that Tires Inc. agreed to fulfill tire orders within 25 calendar days, but does not need to know that if an order is for more than 50,000 tires, this lead time raises to 30 days or that for tires larger than 19 inches in diameter special rules apply. Simply adding that large orders and certain tire sizes involve special clauses will suffice. Keep in mind that the reader can always refer to the full legal agreement for details.
Explain why the legal agreement is important. Since the reader will likely not be an expert in the area, he or she will depend on you to explain the significance of this agreement. Was the price unusually advantageous, lead time particularly short or the penalties very steep for failing to fulfill orders on time? Explain the strengths and, if at all, weaknesses of the agreement. Keep in mind that if you were the driving force behind the agreement, this is also an appropriate and possibly the only time to claim credit for your accomplishments.
Finish the summary by listing the next steps. The signing of the agreement may necessitate additional actions, such as approval by the headquarters, or the agreement itself may have been incomplete, including a clause which states that supply schedules for truck tires are not covered by this legal document and an additional agreement will be signed for them in the near future. This "forward looking" projection will bring the summary to a logical conclusion and give the reader a good sense of what to expect next. It will set the stage for the next executive summary likely to follow.
Hunkar Ozyasar is the former high-yield bond strategist for Deutsche Bank. He has been quoted in publications including "Financial Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." His book, "When Time Management Fails," is published in 12 countries while Ozyasar’s finance articles are featured on Nikkei, Japan’s premier financial news service. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Kellogg Graduate School.