dependent upon how well I was analytically and mathematically."
For the successful, the payoff–six figure salaries, large financial budgets, corporate perks, and the power to make critical company decisions–is hefty. And so is the pressure. In today’s climate of mergers and acquisitions, understanding the politics of performance is vital for career survival.
"Senior level executives are more vulnerable, particularly now," says Sharon Hall, managing director and partner in the Atlanta offices of Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm. "For one, they are more visible. They also take up huge compensation, so if a company is looking to slash budgets, that might be a good place to start [while] retaining the people who are closer to the work. And [senior executives] are easy scapegoats when stockholders and board members are looking for answers. They accept those conditions, however, when they accept the position."
According to Hall, there are five critical factors in acquiring and maintaining a vice presidential position in a corporate company:
1. BE SOLIDLY GROUNDED.
Three components contribute to the makeup of a solid candidate for vice president, senior vice president, and beyond.
Do outstanding work. "You have to deliver outstanding work that is consistently above what’s expected," says Hall. It’s important to developing a reputation, believes Jonathon Jefferson, a vice president at the Atlanta offices of A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting company. Jefferson’s concentration is telecommunications and communications companies in the eastern United States. "You have to be a person who can be counted on," he remarks. "What are you known for? What is your specialty? If someone says, `Jonathon,’ and they didn’t first think problem solver, a planner, or a bottom-line-results type of guy, then I wouldn’t be where I am right now."
Make a strong culture fit. "Plenty of people are smart, but they may be rough around the edges," says Hall. Vice presidents are expected to be polished and effective managers. "[They] are officers of the company," she explains. "They can sign off on budgets and contracts that legally bind the company. That can be a vulnerable position for a company. The officer ranks are longstanding clubs, and executives at the top level want to know that this person is one of us."
Get in line with the company’s key strategies. If the company is in a cost-cutting mode, your group should not be bleeding at the bottom line. If the company wants to upgrade and your group is struggling at the current pace, that’s a problem.
2. HAVE A MENTOR WHO IS AN ADVOCATE.
"It has to be someone with power and influence," stresses Hall. "Because, at the end of the day, you always have more people in the pool than you have slots. You need someone who can and will take a stand against ambiguity when discussing candidates–and there will be ambiguity." Finding a mentor was Davis’ first priority when he joined J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in 1992. "I sought out the most senior black person I knew in that