Thoughts on The Title

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.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on The Title”

  1. Heh. I’m on the board of Trustees for my church, and they elected me of all people at the Vice chair, which is a mostly meaningless title. Pretty much it means that I get stuck doing a good portion of the work.

  2. I think Cartoonist is a better title then CEO. Why? I can answer that with a question.

    Who was CEO of United Feature when they brought on Charles Schultz?

  3. I don’t have a title in our company. All the good ones got grabbed by the other three. Fair enough, since the whole thing was done without my participation.

    I tried to claim the title “Chief Chicken Counter” but my wife pointed out that the Treasurer already serves that function.

  4. In a society where language seems to be daily rewritten into strange newspeak, I find _very_ refreshing the idea of actually trying to communicate what you really do, or who you are, or what business you are about.

    I heard a lady on the radio giving a speech about the ways in which corporations, governments and media seem to be blurring the meanings of words and titles, and redefining them. Her example went something along the lines of “When words like ’empowerment’ and ‘peacekeeping’ send a chill of fear down your spine…”

    I also think that to some degree, people allow themselves to be shaped by titles, rather than the other way around (finding a title that fits a job, or whatever else).

    A title, label, or name is meant to give a fast and efficient way to communicate a larger amount of data than one word generally holds. The only way to do that is to have people agree on what these things mean. But often, people take advantage of words that _sound_ like one thing when they _mean_ another when they say them. When people think “CEO” they think “Big important person.” But CEO might conceivably mean “One of two guys in a basement with water dripping on them, trying to figure out how to sell something.”

    In a corporate environment, as r_caton pointed out, I’ve seen titles used to stroke someone’s ego and try to make them happier about taking less money for more responsibility and work. I’ve also seen titles used to blur the “chain of authority” so that companies can kind of sleaze about who is responsible for a decision that goes bad, or which harms someone. (“Oh, I’m sorry, the Director of Operations doesn’t have the authority to make that sort of deal, you’d need to have made that deal with the Chief Operations Officer”).

    It is my hope, of course, that someday soon, you and Sandra won’t _need_ a title beyond Howard or Sandra Tayler… because people will _know_ that yer the guy making us laugh all our hineys off, and she’s the lady who turns your yuks into practical survival. (I suspect that some of the survival comes from you, and some of the laughs come from her… but that’s just my suspicion. I get the impression you are a real team!)

    Coyote

  5. I have a friend who does computer consulting, and he formed an LLC, mainly for tax and liability purposes, to run his work through. He’s the company’s only employee, and his business cards designate him as “Managing Peon”. 🙂

    I like the “HIgh Priestess” version of Mrs. Tayler’s title best. 😀

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