Longevity and the General Manager
By Norm Spitzig
Why is it that relatively few general managers can work-and succeed-in the
same company for a long period of time, while the majority cannot and do
not? Conversely, why is it that a good number of businesses, given their
history, tradition, culture and/or governance structure, cannot keep-or
choose not to keep-a general manager who has the talent, temperament and
desire to successfully manage their operation for a long period of time?
This issue is clearly one that, properly understood, can be of significant
value to businesses of all types and sizes as well as the many general
managers who operate them.
Adam has worked for four different companies over the past decade. While
all of his employers would readily agree that he is a talented, hard working
and caring employee, Adam clearly hasn't yet found that right career "fit."
Why not? Who bears the responsibility in this matter? Adam or his employers?
Clearly, a successful long-term career match is a dual-edged sword,
requiring substantive contributions on BOTH the employee's and the
What, to begin, are the core characteristics that successful long-term
general managers consistently bring their employers?
1. They have the "basics." Their integrity is unimpeachable, they have
mastered the core competencies associated with their profession
(particularly in the financial arena) and they have an inherent and ongoing
desire to make people happy. They are enthusiastic and positive in their
attitude, and their management style and temperament fits the businesses
where they work.
2. They understand that their job is to give their owners and bosses
what they want - not what they think they should have. At the end of the
day, it is company owners who, with appropriate input from their
employees, determine the mission, vision, business plans, products and
services that the business will offer. If the general manager substantially
disagrees, he can-and probably should-work elsewhere.
3. They know the fundamental importance of genuinely respecting the
people they work for and with. If the general manager doesn't really like
and respect the bosses to whom he reports, the staff with whom he or she
interacts, and the customers the company serves, it will show-and with
surprising speed. Their place of employment is more than "just a job" for
long-tenured general managers.
4. They understand the political nature of their job. While successful
long-term general managers don't "play politics," neither are they so naïve
to ignore the fact that every workplace, to some degree, is a politically
charged environment. Sometimes even the best general managers have to call
in a chip or two, methodically earned over years of solid performance, to
survive the "rogue" boss who is attempting to lead the company in a
direction that most everyone else does not want to go.
5. They have ties to, and love for, their local community. Long-term general
managers genuinely enjoy and embrace the part of the world in which they
choose to work. Those who don't much like cold weather are unlikely to be
happy having their professional career based in Minneapolis.
Conversely, what do employers wanting to keep their general managers happy
and productive for decades bring to the table?
1. Genuine authority to affect positive, meaningful change. A competent
general manager thrives on the opportunity to manage in a manner
commensurate with his unique personality, educational background, and
professional experience-consistent, of course, with the mission, vision,
goals, values and financial imperatives of the company. No true professional
wants to be a puppet.
2. A compensation package commensurate with the position, performance and
industry standards. Essential to retaining a quality general manager over
the long run is a fair salary and benefit package, one that equals-or,
better yet, measurably exceeds-the competition. Even in challenging economic
times-no, especially in them-quality general managers will more likely
remain loyal when the compensation is right.
3. The opportunity for professional advancement and additional
responsibilities. Talented, caring general managers truly savor the
opportunity to increase the scope and challenge of their work. A top general
manager without such opportunities will, over time, look elsewhere to
satisfy his or her professional requirements.
4. Sufficient time and opportunity for appropriate community and leisure
activities. Studies over the past several decades have consistently
confirmed that employees who have interesting, fulfilling personal lives and
who take the time to appropriately "give back" to their local communities
are measurably more productive during their time on the job. In such
situations, the general manager "wins," as do the companies for which he or
5. Ongoing professional development. Despite the occasional company
owner/boss who thinks that their general manager participating in
professional development programs is a "waste of time and money," successful
long-term general managers are constantly seeking to learn new ideas and
provide cutting edge services for their customers. Good employers recognize
this fact, and fund their general managers' professional development
In summary, consistent, competent and ethical behavior leads to mutual
confidence and trust among company owners and general managers. Confidence
and trust, in turn, lead to increased managerial authority and autonomy for
general managers as well as increased productivity for the companies that
employ them. The net result is a paradigm "win-win" situation: a more
enjoyable, more successful and significantly longer tenure for general
managers and a more efficient and profitable workplace for company owners