May 4, 2022 - Economy & Business

Rise of the executors

Illustration of a woman looking though a telescope at a night sky with a grid and a trend line made out of stars
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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 this is: Joining or buying a small business and scaling it instead of coming up with the idea yourself.
  • Elon Musk joined on at Tesla, Howard Schultz did this with Starbucks, and Meg Whitman with eBay.

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 away her 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.

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