The Executors

We celebrate — and obsess about — the innovators, the “big ideas” people. But a great idea, without good execution, is worthless.

Why it matters: You don’t need a world-changing idea to find success or do good. Knowing how to spot greatness and turn it into reality is equally valuable — and a booming business trend.

Zoom in: A growing, executor-driven field in the business world that we can all relate to: entrepreneurship through acquisition.

  • What it is:Joining or buying a small business and scaling it instead of coming up with the idea yourself. (See the item below for key examples.)

By the numbers: There was a 31% surge in this practice in 2016, and we’ve been hitting new records every year since. Professors are now teaching this as a way to do business at Harvard, Stanford, NYU and beyond.

“There’s not just one way to success,” says Stephen Garrow, a professor at NYU’s Stern business school. “You don’t always need to brainstorm some genius idea.”

  • Scores of businesses in the U.S. are doing well but have been stagnant for a decade, he says. The right executor could come in and make that company grow — fast.

It’s not just happening in business.

  • A philanthropist like MacKenzie Scott is rapidly giving awayher billions to charities that have the mission but lack the resources. Her ask: Hire the executor who will bring it to life. She’s an execution-enabler.

Who are the ideators? They’re the people who have the “aha!” moments — inventors like George Washington Carver and Steve Jobs.

Who are the executors? They’re people who put the ideas to work, finding support and making an action plan. There are a lot more executors than ideators, and the need is rising in this tight labor market.

The bottom line: Brilliant ideas are like the seeds of a dazzling flower. The executors are the soil, the water and the gardeners who make them grow.

-Did you know?

Here are three famous executors — people who weren’t the original founders of the companies they’re now known for:

  1. Elon Musk: The founders of Tesla brought on Musk — an investor at the time — as the carmaker’s fourth CEO. “He’s taken it to heights that are fantastic,” co-founder Marc Tarpenning told CNBC.
  2. Howard Schultz: He first encountered Starbucks as a customer in Seattle and later convinced the three founders to hire him— and scaled the chain to what it is today.
  3. Meg Whitman: When she became CEO, eBay had 30 employees and made $4 million a year. When she left10 years later, the company had 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue.


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