Understanding the Role and Scope of the General Manager

Female Business Professional
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General Manager Definition:

A General Manager (often referenced as GM) has broad, overall responsibility for a business or a business unit within a larger organization. The role is particularly common in large global or multinational organizations where businesses are organized along product lines; customer groups or geographies. 

The General Manager serves as the top executive for the unit and is responsible for strategy, structure, budgets, people and financial outcomes and scorecard metrics.

In larger organizations, the General Manager reports into a corporate executive, often the Chief Executive Officer or Chief Operations Officer. 

12 General Manager Responsibilities:

  1. Oversee daily operations for the business unit or organization.
  2. Insure the creation and implementation of a strategy designed to grow the business.
  3. Coordinate the development of key performance goals for functions and direct reports. 
  4. Provide direct management of key functional managers and executives in the business unit. 
  5. Insure the development of tactical programs to pursue targeted goals and objectives.
  6. Insure overall delivery and quality of the unit's offerings to customers. 
  7. Engage in key or targeted customer activities.
  8. Oversee key hiring and talent development programs.
  9. Evaluate and decide upon key investments in equipment, infrastructure and talent. 
  10. Communicate strategy and results to the unit's employees. 
  11. Report key results to corporate officers.
  1. Engage with corporate officers in broader organizational strategy planning. 

Becoming a General Manager:

As the title implies, the individual in the GM role is a generalist, familiar with all areas of the business and able to coordinate processes and operations across the organization. A general manager must speak the languages of finance and accounting, operations, sales, marketing, human resources and research and development (engineering).

 

In larger organizations, individuals viewed as having general management potential often work in a series of assignments, rotating through the various functions and gradually growing their experience and responsibilities over many years. General Managers typically have deep industry expertise, and if they do not come from within the larger organization, it is likely they have a long history working for one or more competitors within the same industry. 

Given the broad base of expertise and knowledge required for success in the role, general managers often have advanced degrees, with emphasis on the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree. 

For those individuals interested in moving towards the role of general manager in their careers, it is important to pursue the following actions:

  • Work with your executive or manager to gain support for regular job rotation into new assignments. 
  • Consider lateral moves into other departments as a means of growing your experience. 
  • Volunteer for or get involved in cross-functional projects as a means of learning the business and expanding your professional network of contacts.
  • Seek additional education in core management topics, including: accounting, operations, sales and marketing. 
  • Consider seeking an advanced degree, especially the MBA. 

Challenges of the General Manager:

The role of the general manager is a difficult one. They are accountable to their boss or corporate group for all of the activities of their business unit with emphasis on the financial results. While they have a great deal of autonomy in operating within their business unit, they typically must justify significant investments as well as changes in key strategies or personnel. In essence, they have all of the challenges of running a business plus the challenges of reporting to a corporate group who is most likely focused on financial outcomes. ​​

Additional challenges include:

  • Ensuring the development and implementation of a clear strategic plan.
  • Looking forward to the future of the business and making key investments and investment recommendations.
  • Supporting the development of a healthy internal culture that retains key employees and encourages their professional development. 

Career Advancement for the General Manager:

While the role of general manager is a senior role and possibly the highest level an individual will achieve, some organizations actively draw their corporate-level senior executives from the ranks of the general managers. The challenges and complexity of the role make it an ideal proving ground for running multiple business units or advancing to the role of Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive Officer. 

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Edited by Art Petty

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