The terms "manager" and "executive" are often bandied about -- sometimes interchangeably -- within a firm. In reality, there is a significant distinction between executives and managers. Anyone who has a career ambition to be either a manager or an executive should understand exactly what each type of job entails.
A manager administers people and/or resources. Managerial jobs exist at several different levels within a firm. For example, a chain of restaurants might have executive managers at the national level, regional managers responsible for a specific area and several managers within individual restaurants, such as kitchen manager, dining room manager and general manager. Because managerial positions vary greatly, managers will also vary greatly in their experience levels and education.
An executive is a type of manager. Executives are responsible for the management of a firm at the highest level. A firm's executives report directly to the board of directors or owners, and are typically responsible for large portfolios within the business. For example, a chief marketing executive will be responsible for overseeing the firm's marketing efforts, while a chief financial executive will handle everything relating to finance. Typically, a chief executive officer will oversee the other executives and provide guidance for the firm as a whole.
Most firms operate in a hierarchy in which senior managers report directly to the firm's executives. Because executives do not work directly with front-line employees, it is important that they have a strong relationship with their managers. Managers can act as the firm's eyes and ears on the ground, reporting information from the base of the company to the top executives. Executives should also ensure they have managers who are capable of communicating the goals and objectives of the executive to employees.
The career paths for managers and executives are closely related. In most cases, an executive will rise through the ranks of the firm. For example, someone may start as the manager for a brand in a limited area, then rise to manage the brand at a national level or an international region, followed by a promotion to an executive position. In order to advance to a senior management level, it is often necessary to obtain an MBA. There are executive MBA programs tailored to those who wish to reach an executive position.