Skip to Main Content

Chief Executive Officers

History

Business has been conducted since the beginning of civilization, and there have always been business founders or managers who oversaw the operation of businesses. Corporations, today’s most common form of business, were developed in the early Middle Ages as a legal alternative to private partnerships or businesses. The first corporations were religious orders, town governments, and universities.

During the Industrial Revolution in the mid-to-late 18th century, companies grew larger and more complicated as a result of improved manufacturing processes and other factors. By 1890, “there were nearly 500,000 chartered business corporations in the United States, far more than in any other country,” according to “Reforming Corporate Governance: What History Can Teach Us,” by Margaret M. Blair. At this point, large companies began drawing up organizational charts that featured titles such as president and vice president.

The term “chief executive officer” didn’t gain wide usage until the 1970s. Since then, the number of corporations and other business entities in the United States has grown rapidly. In 2015, there were approximately 6.8 million business establishments in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with nearly 1.2 million employing 500 or more workers. Today, the term “CEO” is instantly recognizable by the public, and many CEOs have high media profiles as the "public faces" of their companies or organizations. 

Related Professions
Featured Companies