How to Become a General Manager (GM) - Steps & Requirements

When the average American hears the term “general manager,” they might think of it in the context of professional sports. In football, for example, a team’s GM is responsible for financial transactions, business strategy, staff assignments, and player contracts—and in this role, they often invoke the ire of armchair pundits across the nation.

There’s less public scrutiny over the hiring and firing of various employees in the business world, but the responsibilities of a general manager are primarily the same. Here, a GM is responsible for the operation of a particular department within a company. And it’s their job to shape that team into an efficient and synergized unit that can meet operational targets. Of course, the goal isn’t winning the Super Bowl, but sometimes the stakes are just as high: the decision a GM makes can have consequences to the tune of millions of dollars.

General managers come in many shapes and sizes, and their duties are primarily based on the particular company and department they serve. For example, a GM at a tech company may have a background in IT and serve as a product manager, while a GM at a manufacturing company may specialize in supply chain logistics. In most cases, GMs oversee lower-level managers and report up to top executives. This requires both a fundamental understanding of a specific department’s operations and a keen ability to motivate and manage large teams.

But the rewards are commensurate with the requirements: according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of a general manager is over $122,860 per year (BLS May 2022). The top employing industries for general and operations managers range from restaurants and other eating places to merchant wholesalers, with nearly 3,376,680 people employed in this role (BLS May 2022).

The GM of a business department isn’t all that different from the GM of a sports team. This is a role that asks for a competitive spirit, an appetite for risk, and attention to detail. If you’re ready to step out onto the field of general management, read on to find our step-by-step guide.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a GM

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

After graduating from high school, aspiring general managers need to earn a bachelor’s degree. While one can choose to major in any business-related sphere (e.g., finance, marketing, economics, etc.), the most linear path is to specialize in business administration or management. Admissions requirements vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive high school GPA (3.0 or greater); letters of recommendation; SAT and/or ACT scores; and a personal statement.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University offers a bachelor of science (BS) in management that can be completed entirely online. Students in this program will gain the qualifications and expertise needed for managing people, streamlining operations, and leading globally. Graduates will position themselves to take on key positions in several industry fields and sectors of business.

The 120-credit curriculum of this program covers subjects such as organizational behavior; cross-cultural management; leading organizations; organization and management leadership; marketing and business performance; global supply operations; business law and ethics for managers; principles of international business; and problem-solving and actionable analytics.

Upon successful completion of the program, graduates can take up roles such as business analysts, business professors, general managers (GM), office managers, compliance managers, sales managers, social services directors, and store security managers.

  • Location: Tempe, AZ
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $714 per credit

Boston University

The on-campus bachelor of science in business administration (BSBA) program at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business puts its students into management training at the start of their freshman year. Key classes include the dynamics of leading organizations; modeling business decisions and market outcomes; management communications; marketing management; modeling business decisions and market outcomes; managerial accounting; and operations management.

Students may choose from 11 different functional concentrations: accounting; finance; business analytics; independent concentration; innovation & entrepreneurship; information systems; law; marketing; management & organizations; operations & technology management; or strategy.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
  • Estimated Tuition: Contact the university for a customized assessment

Step Two: Gain Early Work Experience (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After earning their bachelor’s degree, many aspiring general managers seek out early work experience. While some prefer to skip straight to their MBA (see step three below), entry-level jobs can prove to be an invaluable experience, providing a chance to learn on the job while also shaping the direction of one’s career toward a particular subset of business like HR, IT, or finance.

An aspiring general manager will almost always need to spend time at lower-level positions before earning the title of a GM. However, starting early can boost one’s resume for further employment and one’s application to graduate programs. As a bonus, some employers will even subsidize a portion of their employee’s graduate tuition, making early work experience an attractive investment.

Step Three: Earn an MBA (One to Three Years)

After earning a bachelor’s degree, an aspiring general manager can benefit immensely from earning a master’s of business administration. The MBA is of value for almost any business-facing profession, but it’s practically tailor-made for future general managers. Students in MBA programs will sharpen their business acumen, develop an extensive professional network, and learn the management skills that turn a role-player into a leader.

Admissions requirements for MBA programs will vary from school to school but generally include some combination of the following: a competitive undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); letters of recommendation; GRE and/or GMAT scores; a personal statement; and work experience.

Northeastern University D’Amore-McKim School of Business

The online MBA at Northeastern University D’Amore-McKim School of Business offers all the rigor of an on-campus program, but with the added flexibility of online delivery. The core curriculum includes management classes covering topics such as operations and supply chain management; managing people and organizations; managing the global enterprise; managing information resources; and managing ethics in the workplace and marketplace.

Students may choose either a generalist track or add one of eight concentrations: finance; healthcare management; high technology management; innovation entrepreneurship; international management; marketing; supply chain management; or sustainability. The program consists of 50 credits.

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months or more
  • Estimated Tuition: $65,062 total

Johns Hopkins Carey Business School

The flexible MBA program at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School can be completed either online, on-campus, or in a hybrid format. The business foundation portion of the curriculum includes classes such as business communications; business analytics; operations management; accounting and financial reporting; corporate finance; leadership and organizational behavior; marketing management; statistical analysis; and strategic management.

Online students may choose to further specialize their education by choosing from one of eight concentrations: business analytics and risk management; entrepreneurial marketing; digital marketing; entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology; health care management, innovation and technology; financial management; public and private sector leadership; and investments. The program comprises 54 credits and takes approximately 32 months to complete.

Students enrolled in this program will be required to take one course with a mandatory residency, which includes a two-day synchronous component. Additional, optional residency courses will be available throughout the program.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 32 months or less
  • Estimated Tuition: $1,800 per credit

Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University offers a 30-credit online MBA with 17 specialization areas, including sports management; accounting; engineering management; business analytics; entrepreneurship; healthcare management; finance; human resources; international business; information technology management; and more.

Courses in this program include leading people and organizations; organizational strategy in a global environment; innovation and strategy for high-performance organizations; measuring success in an organization; optimizing brands; leading organizational change; and strategic opportunity management. Applicants can transfer up to six credits and choose from several start dates. GRE and GMAT scores are not required for admission.

SNHU’s online MBA program revised its curriculum in 2021 and is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). In addition, students have access to support services through academic advising, and exclusive online learning communities. This program can be completed in approximately one year.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $637 per credit

University of Scranton

The Kania School of Management at the University of Scranton offers an on-campus and an online MBA program with eight unique specialization areas, three of which are in management. Made up of 36 to 48 credits, the program’s core curriculum includes courses such as organizational behavior; marketing management; management information systems; introduction to business analytics; operations management; financial management; managerial economics; and accounting for management. The Association accredits this program to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

The University of Scranton is one of 27 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States and offers small MBA classes, capped at 20 students. Students in this program interact with their classmates and MBA faculty members to create a strong network of cohorts to help them transition from academic to professional life.

Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, a minimum grade point average of 3.0, official transcripts from all previously attended institutions, a current resume, three years of professional or supervisory work experience, a statement of intent, and three letters of reference. GMAT or GRE scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Scranton, PA
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 24 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $965 per credit

University of Saint Mary

The University of Saint Mary offers an online MBA with eight concentration areas, including human resource management; health care management; general management; finance; leadership and organizational health; marketing & advertising management; accounting; and business analytics.

Comprising 33 credits, the program includes courses such as organizational management; marketing management; managerial economics; legal environment & commercial transactions; managerial accounting; managerial finance; global management; and data analytics for decision-making. This program is accredited by the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE) and can be completed full- or part-time.

Graduates with a human resource management concentration are well-positioned for human resource management roles and are trained to take calculated risks. By studying business and ethics, conflict management, and negotiations, MBA graduates with human resources training are prepared to lead teams and help companies navigate challenging situations.

  • Location: Leavenworth, KS
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC); International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
  • Estimated Tuition: $605 per credit

Step Four: Consider Professional Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

While it’s not a requirement, many general managers seek out professional certification. In doing so, a general manager can stand out from an increasingly educated pack by demonstrating a commitment to and understanding of the industry’s best practices. And requirements to recertify often mean that a credentialed general manager is asked to complete continuing education units, making them more likely to be abreast of industry trends.

The Institute of Certified Professional Managers (ICPM) offers a robust credential in its Certified Manager (CM) certification. Eligibility is based on a weighted point system that balances education and work experience. While there is some flexibility within that system, a bachelor’s degree combined with four years of management experience is generally sufficient. Once deemed eligible, applicants must pass three separate multiple-choice tests: management essentials, planning and organizing, and leading and controlling.

A complete blueprint of each test’s topic areas can be found on the ICPM website (see link above). Each test consists of 100 questions, which applicants are given two hours to complete. Application and exam fees come in bundled packages andrange from 405 to $700. Those who hold the CM designation will need to recertify every three years by completing 45 professional development units (PDUs) with a management or leadership focus.

Helpful Resources for Aspiring GMs

Management is about teamwork. General managers rely on the exchange of ideas to make them better leaders both in and out of the office. To get a glimpse into the evolving world of general management, check out some of the resources below.

Matt Zbrog
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about how new and aspiring business school students can best plan their education and careers. In the Two Views series, he conducts detailed interviews with recent business school alumni, with a particular focus on the choice between in-person, online, and hybrid learning models. His Femme-BA series highlights business schools that not only excel academically but also take unique and robust steps to support a diverse and inclusive learning environment for women.

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