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I work for a privately held company with a single Owner/President. Up until two years ago there was a single VP (Vice President). Then that role was split into three VP positions. One of those VPs left, and I was given that position. But my title is Director, not VP.

Does this difference have any significance, especially in a privately held company?

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    There is an impression (I imagine at least mostly incorrect! Certainly largely voiced in jest) in the UK that everyone in the US is VP of something – Joseph Rogers Dec 14 '15 at 8:06
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    @JosephRogers Silicon Valley is a bit of a joke in my UK office. Every graduate and their dog appears to bea VP or C_O or their 3 man basement hack-fest. – Gusdor Dec 14 '15 at 9:46
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    In the UK a company "director" has specific meaning and carries specific responsibilities - see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directors%27_duties_in_the_United_Kingdom – Qwerky Dec 14 '15 at 11:52
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    In my company about 40% of the people are Vice Presidents, and we don't have the director title. It really depends on a per company basis. – David says Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '15 at 14:37
  • For more context, this company has about 60 employees. Twelve work under me. The VPs have six and forty respectively. I'm the highest paid employee. – Stephen Collings Dec 14 '15 at 14:39
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Actually, the titles are used interchangeably at some places, and at some places they are given a different set of responsibilities to each.

An excellent answer from Quora:

"Head of " is orthogonal to VP/Director type titles, because the "Head of " means that one is the highest-ranking specialist at a given time, whereas Director and VP refer to levels of trust and status within the company. You can be the VP of X and not the Head of X, or vice versa.

You also don't have to be a manager to be a Head or to be a Director/VP. Most job offers that I get at this point in my career are VP or Director level (in part, to justify actually paying me to HR) even if I'm going to be writing code full-time. (I generally prefer to start a new job without reports, insofar as I want reports who want to be under me and chose me, not those who were "put" under me.) So, all of these matters are orthogonal to whether you actually have reports. In finance, it's not uncommon for star traders or quants to be "Managing Director" but individual contributors.

In some cultures and countries, VPs outrank Directors and, in others, it's the reverse. In the U.S., it's common for VPs to be higher than Directors. In European companies and investment banking, Directors often outrank VPs.

So, taking a U.S.-based approach, here's approximately what the titles mean:

  • Manager is just a job and doesn't necessarily imply meaningful status. It doesn't make you "one of us" as far as the executives are concerned. You're still defined by the work you do (i.e. managing) rather than the status that you hold in the company. So, it's still quite a blue collar title.
  • Head of is, like Manager, blue-collar insofar as it describes what you do rather than what you are. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It can give you a certain blue-collar credibility (and, thus, respect from the people you need to lead) to be "Head of Technology" among the engineers while being "VP of Engineering" as far as Exec (i.e. the core of people who actually run the company) sees you.
  • Director (or, for non-managerial people at such a level in software, architect) is the mid-level at which competence is asserted but you're not yet "one of us" as far as Exec sees it. You're trusted enough to push more often than you're pulled, and you can direct your own work and delegate, and there are no doubts about your industrial competence, but you're still being vetted socially. In investment banks and European countries, however, this level is called VP. As a Director, you're the top of middle management and crossing from being evaluated on what you do (blue-collar) to being judged on what you are (executive)-- or, more darkly and realistically, how you are perceived.
  • Vice President means that you're "one of us" according to Exec, but you're not a leader within Exec. Technically, it's supposed to mean (as vice president) that you're good enough that you'd be qualified to lead the company if the entire line-of-succession above you were suddenly pulled away to other things. (I don't know if it's taken to actually mean that.) It also allows you to represent a certain capacity to Exec. The Director of Engineering is responsible for overseeing day-to-day functioning of the engineering organization; the VP is trusted to represent the engineering organization to the executive suite.
  • Senior and Executive VP don't mean that much more. They're given to people who are good enough to justify a promotion every 5 years, but for whom there aren't proper C-level positions. As I'll discuss in the next bullet point, sometimes creating a C-level position is bad for the person who inhabits it. In theory, Executive VP means that you're "C-level quality" (whatever that means, and however that is construed to be different from "VP-level quality") but that there wasn't a C-level position to put you in.
  • C-level positions generally mean that an executive, on paper, reports to the board. (In practice, if the CEO doesn't like you, you're probably gone unless that CEO is in hot water. So the CEO is still your boss.) They also mean that someone can't be hired above you, which can be a nice thing to have. One of the major reasons why titles matter is that it requires the company to go one level higher to bring someone in above you. If you're a VP of Engineer, the company will have to hire an SVP of Engineering, and if SVP doesn't exist yet... shit gets complicated, because now every VP is deciding whether he deserves to get this newly-existent SVP title. Well, at C-level, it's titularly impossible to hire above you in your specialty (unless you get fired, which will usually be a news-maker and draw questions if you're a big company). The bad thing about being C-level is that it can hurt your career if the company becomes known for failing in that capacity, even if it's not your fault (e.g. Chief Risk Officer at a blown-up hedge fund) and also that goofy C-levels (e.g. Chief Futurism Officer) suggest "promoted out of the way" or, even worse, "self-assigned title". I'd rather have a conservative and meaningful VP-level title than a silly C-level.

There's a bit of blurriness in all of this, but the one-sentence summaries would be as follows: Director means "vetted for competence", VP means "vetted for social fit within Exec", EVP means "a leader within Exec, and CxO means "highest x we think we'll ever need, until we decide otherwise". Head and Manager are still job (rather than status) descriptions and are orthogonal. Most career executives would rather be Senior Vice President of something than Head of it, but in tech companies, Head of Technology or Head of Research can carry a certain blue-collar gravity that traditional titles (which suggest, to a cynic, "negotiated well in the offer stage" rather than "leader of the group") don't always have.

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    I read about half of it, +1 anyway – Kilisi Dec 14 '15 at 4:57
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    @Kilisi Ha ha. Some places it is Director > VP, and some other places they are used interchangeably. Anyways, this is the view-point of a Silicon Valley CEO, so I included it :) – Dawny33 Dec 14 '15 at 5:44
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    I'd just like to add that "director" is usually legally defined role in Europe, and is basically the person legally responsible for the company, and the highest rank by default. – Davor Dec 14 '15 at 12:18
  • In the US, in non-profit organizations, those who have a position equivalent to a for-profit VP, EVP, or even C-level could be called "Director" (e.g., "Director of FInance" instead of "CFO"), and the President/CEO would be called "Executive Director". But for a while now, that's been changing, and non-profit titles are being changed to more closely match for-profit titles, along with some non-profits being run more like for-profits (a mistake, IMHO, but totally not related to the question or answer). – Todd Wilcox Dec 14 '15 at 13:58
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One of those VPs left, and I was given that position. But my title is Director, not VP.

Does this difference have any significance, especially in a privately held company?

Yes, most likely.

In your company, since there are now two VPs and one Director, there is a clear difference, and probably a significance. For some reason, you are not quite at the same level as the other two VPs. That could be because the company wants you to earn your way into a VP title, or because you don't have the same span of authority as the other two VPs, because you aren't paid as much as the others, or for some other reason.

In general, titles mean only what the specific company wants them to mean.

Banks for example often have many, many VPs and Directors, and many levels of VPs and Directors.

I've been a Manager, Director, VP - not necessarily in that order at several companies. Often, the actual work I performed was indistinguishable.

Many times, companies will use titles to attract candidates (figuring some folks might want to work for them if they could get promoted to Director instead of Manager). Other times, companies will use titles to rank similar peers (The Senior VP is more important than the VP, who is more important than the Director, etc). Many times, companies use titles to set certain people into a higher or lower pay grade (I've seen that happen several times when a company distinguished between the titles Manager and Director, for example).

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