General Manager: An Insight from the Past to Inform the Future?

The General Manager (GM) role is an age old role and one that is not seen much in Europe any more due to the propensity towards ‘hyperspeciality’, whereby there is a greater break up of functions which is spread between “Ever more specialized workers”[1] (Thomas W Malone et al.).

The GM role still exists however – especially here in New Zealand where the corporate ecosystem is dominated by SMEs – and serves as “A variety of functional roles”[2] that usually “Assum[es] leadership for a small business unit”[3]. What I have found over my time working here though, is that there is a lot of confusion regarding the specific details of the job. Although there are a lot of adverts regarding wants of being able to “Work closely with the senior team”[4] and “Develop[ing] the strategic direction of the organisation”[5], the General Manager position seems to be crowbarred into the New Zealand corporate world without a clear direction for the future. I believe this phenomenon to be due to most companies being what I like to term High Growth Experimenters: those that are constantly metamorphosing in order to maintain their growth momentum. I wanted to understand if these high growth companies would propel change in the future for the General Manager role so I reached out to my network to find out. I asked the following three questions to ascertain what the future of the GM role would be:

· Would you be looking to stay as a GM in your next role?

· If you are looking to move into the C Suite what role are you looking to move into?

· If you are working in a high growth organization how long will it be before your GM role is to be disestablished?

To the first question, there appeared to be a near half and half split with the yes category being the most favoured. It was interesting that a lot of my replies which favoured a move into another GM position offered that “The title [didn’t] bother [them]”[6]. Building from this, it was explained to me that there is a lot of grey area amongst the highest corporate ranks and there is much interaction between these roles. For example, the CEO might have the ultimate say about the company’s agenda, but the General Manager is still responsible for areas such as developing and delivering strategy. As such, these respondents didn’t care for an upgrade in title as long “As the challenge was there” to maintain their job fulfilment.

On the other hand (relating to my second question), it was interesting to see that over 70% of those that were seeking to take up roles related to the modern sense of the C-Suite were in the market to become CEOs or COOs – over 65% of these respondents leaning towards the Chief Executive Officer position. As a move for companies, it makes sense to me in hiring individuals with this sort of background as who can really ignore a candidate with an arguably larger arsenal of skills than their competitors? For those seeking the COO job instead, this too made sense to me considering that the respondents in favour of this switch seemed in their current roles to be heavily focused on business operational logistics; perhaps a future COO move would be more sideways than upwards then? Either way, I do wish all luck in their future endeavours.

The third question seemed to bring light to the most interesting phenomenon however: 75%+ of my respondents didn’t not see there being a disestablishing of the General Manager role in the future. Does this mean that New Zealand companies will be left behind as the rest of the world, especially Europe and North America, are able to continue producing the same quality of product for cheaper due to hyperspecialisation? I don’t think so. As much as I believe the essence of the General Manager role will keep on keeping on, I am inclined to believe that there will be a great shift in the responsibilities of the role within the three years quoted to me by the disestablishment camp. What will this change be? Will the General Manager feed into other rising C-Suite positions? Will the GM sit above them? It’s hard to tell with High Growth Experimenters, but I am certainly going to keep an eye on the trend as it plays out. Let’s see what the future brings!


[1] Thomas W Malone et al., The Big Idea: The Age of Hyperspecialization, Harvard Business Review, Jul-Aug, (Watertown: Harvard Business Publishing, 2011). [2] Ron Ashkenas, Bring Back the General Manager, Harvard Business Review, (Watertown: Harvard Business Publishing, 2012). [3]Ibid. [4] Seek Limited. “General Manager Destination Events/Sponsorship Focus New Role!.” (retrieved 02/02/2018). [5]Ibid. [6]Anonymous, General Manager, (Email, 2018).