In the business press, the emphasis is always on the CEO.
They're the stars of books, and the villains in movies. They get interviewed by Jim Cramer on “Mad Money.” They get their picture on the cover of Fortune.
We're guilty of it at Plastics News, too. In our processor rankings, we list one person for each company — the top official.
We also rank the highest-paid executives (16 of the top 20 have CEO in their titles). Plus, each month, we ask a different CEO what keeps them up at night.
And in November, we plan to profile dozens of CEOs in — wait for it — The CEO Issue.
Makes sense. The CEO is the decision maker. If you're in sales, you want to avoid the purchasing and marketing managers and talk to the CEO, right?
The emphasis on the CEO has even found its way into prime-time TV. Once upon a time, the airwaves were filled with shows about cowboys and cops. We've got a guy running for president who Americans mostly know as the guy who fired an apprentice at the conclusion of every week's program.
Now he's running for a job as the ultimate CEO.
And keep this in mind: No one would watch a show called “Undercover CFO.”
But let's step back for a minute and consider the people at the middle — and the bottom — of the pyramid. The ones who feel like they do all of the work at most companies, and get little of the credit.
Middle managers' lament
A couple of weeks ago I spotted a story in The Atlantic called “The Secret Suffering of the Middle Manager.”
The story cited a Columbia University study that was trying to determine which workers are most prone to depression.
It may surprise some people, but it's not the people at the very bottom of the org chart. It's the middle managers.
According to the study, 18 percent of managers reported symptoms of depression. That's significantly higher than the rate for both blue-collar workers (12 percent), and for owners and executives (11 percent).
The experts say it's because managers are caught in the middle, implementing projects mandated by the top executives, on a workforce that may resist change.
So think about that, all you CEOs, and give some love to your middle management today. And remember this: When a company goes out of business, you never hear people say, “I'm not surprised, they had terrible middle management.”
In fact, from what I hear, when a company goes under, one of the first things that happens is that executive recruiters call all the middle managers.
One more thought on this: if you have a great organization, you probably have more than one person who could be your CEO someday. But chances are pretty good that not everyone will get the opportunity.
The heir apparent
Let's consider a hypothetical example. We'll call him “Prince Charles.” Here's a guy who has been groomed for the CEO title at his company, Windsor Plastic Novelty & Ribbon Cutting Ltd.
But the problem is, the current CEO has been around forever. Like, 63 years. Hypothetically, I mean.
Charles has tried very hard to prepare for the CEO role. He beefed up his resume. Worked long hours and put up with a lot of guff from the boss and his underlings.
He's a typical middle manager, in a high stress, low reward position.
But Charles isn't going to be CEO. Heck, his son might get the job.
Should we feel bad for Charles? I say no. He could have left the business and pursued some entrepreneurial opportunity. But he chose to be the good company man.
My message to plastics company CEOs: You probably have plenty of managers on staff who you think are just as valuable as Charles, if not more so. Do something nice for them today.
And, meanwhile, if you'd like to participate in our CEO Issue, start by going to www.plasticsnews.com/ceo to fill out our survey.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.” Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.