What is a SVP?

Carol Francois

Senior vice president, or SVP, is a upper management position that is typical found in American companies. The roles of vice president and senior vice president are only found in very large organizations. Each vice president is responsible for a specific area of the business. For example, companies often have a vice president of sales, finance or operations. In a very large organization, all the vice presidents report to the SVP, who in turn reports to the president of the organization.

Many large American companies have senior vice presidents on their management staff.
Many large American companies have senior vice presidents on their management staff.

There are three different types of companies that utilize the role of senior vice president: international firms, finance and academic. In all three types, management is responsible for the strategic direction of a very large organization. Clear reporting lines and management of executives is critical to the overall success of the firm.

In a very large organization, all of the vice presidents report to the senior vice president.
In a very large organization, all of the vice presidents report to the senior vice president.

International firms with business interests and actives in multiple regions often move to a management structure with a SVP. Each country or region can have several vice presidents. They all report to the SVP, who has the responsibility of coordinating business activity across the whole region, ensuring the companies values and rules are followed. They are also responsible for making decisions that affect the entire region. In a smaller organization, the level of responsibility and decision making required of a senior vice president would make at the presidential level.

In the financial sector, a senior vice president is both a marketing and structural role. Each branch office often has at least one vice president, who in turn reports to the senior vice president. The function of the vice president at this level is to assist in the management of rich investors, money management processes and to ensure a senior staff member is available to assist in complex problem solving and decision making.

In an academic organizational structure, the role of a SVP is to manage the vice presidents and liaison with the board of governance at the highest levels. These roles are typically found in very large universities or colleges with multiple locations and professional programs. They report directly to the president and are accountable to the governing board for all their decisions.

Although senior vice president is one of the highest roles in an organization, SVPs are not automatically considered candidates for the role of president, should it become available. The skills required to be president are more focused on people management, presentations and decision making. Senior vice presidents are focused on problem solving, communication and crisis management.

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Discussion Comments


@everetra - Yeah, I think every company needs a point man who can handle the dirty work of putting out fires and being a go between with the outside world.

The senior vice president role fits that position perfectly. If people have questions or need resolution to a crisis, they don’t want to ask ten different people – and they certainly don’t want to bother the president.

They want someone with sufficient authority who can deal with problems and who is accessible to the common man. In a small business, like you said, there is more of a horizontal authority structure.


@SkyWhisperer - Personally, I don’t think that’s a realistic arrangement.

I would agree that for small to medium size businesses, the senior vice president role would be fluff, since the managers have direct access to the president.

However, in a large company this may not be the case, especially for multinational firms. The president of the company typically doesn’t want to get mired in the muck of details; he’s a big picture, visionary sort of person.

The senior vice president handles the details. It’s a hierarchical structure and it makes sense in my opinion. I think it’s up to the company to decide if a position is superfluous.


I suppose that people seeking career opportunities in human resource management might be tempted to consider the senior vice president role as a career goal, but I wouldn’t encourage that.

The biggest problem I’ve found in large companies that I’ve worked for is that some organizations are a bit too top heavy. You wind up with redundant responsibilities at the upper echelons, and the worker bees aren’t given enough opportunities to demonstrate their skills.

In other words, I think in some companies the tasks of the senior vice president can be broken up and shared among lower level management. Since the article makes clear that the senior vice president is not a fast track to being president, I think it’s fair to assume that his responsibilities can be carried out by a group of people in an executive managerial level.

Perhaps you could create a board of executive managers which could fulfill the role of the senior vice president.

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