Titles really are arbitrary things.
When Rick and I founded Sanctus Records, we were just business partners. When we incorporated, I became CHIEF OF OPERATIONS and he was CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER. It was arbitrary, though. We each knew what work needed to be done, and we did it. At the time I was pretty excited, however, to be able to print up a business card that had me listed as the Chief of Operations of a record label.
At about the same time, Sandra and I incorporated so that our business ventures could be separated from our family finances. Out of necessity one of us “had” to be the CEO. We picked me. She became the Chief Financial Officer. Again, arbitrary titles — I did what I did, she did what she did, and for all the plumage on the business cards it was still just the two of us.
At Novell in 2001 I was doing most of the planning for, and advising on all the key decisions pertaining to a product line worth more than 100 million dollars. My title was “Product Manager.” Eventually I was making most of the decisions myself, and leading a team that was doing all the planning and advising. By then I was a “Product Line Manager.” When we held calls with analysts our Analyst Relations team kept introducing me as a Director. This always amused me, while boosting my ego at the same time.
For a little while I coveted that title, “Director.” It really wasn’t that much of a change in job description from what I was already doing, but in retrospect that title also carried with it some implicit commitment to Novell that a part-time cartoonist is unlikely to make. Being promoted to Director would have been a Bad Thing for me, because arbitrary though the title was for most folks, the people in Human Resources put lots and lots of stock by things like titles. Of course, when I left there were a number of people who thought I already WAS a director. Arbitrary.
I’ve had business cards for my cartooning business for quite a while. They do NOT say “Howard Tayler, CEO of The Tayler Corporation.” If I print up cards for Sandra they won’t say “Chief Financial Officer.” They’ll say “Business Manager,” or maybe something clever like “High Priestess Responsible For The Miracle Of Turning Jokes Into Food And Rent.” Any cards we print will be designed not to satisfy vanity, but to communicate something important. Like “I can write things that will make you laugh,” or “I’m the one to talk to if you want to buy a slice of Howard’s time.”
Could I be a “real” CEO? Absolutely. I might not have the chops to run a billion-dollar corporate empire, but I KNOW I can run something 10% that size. And I know I don’t want to. I mean, I suppose I’ll go ahead and take the job if Schlock Mercenary becomes a hundred-million-dollar business, but if you’re shopping around for an executive to lead your $30 million startup company, I’m NOT your guy.
I’m a cartoonist. Sure, sure… I’m also a husband, a father, a Sunday-school teacher, and a writer… but to the world I am a CARTOONIST. I’m going to keep telling myself that, too. I fully intend to feed my family WITHOUT having to adopt a title that has the words “manager,” “director,” “chief,” or “vice” in it.