For our German sister company we are installing a new CEO. We have only one office there, which is the main office, inclusing sales, shipping, deliveries, etc. It is not a store where random customers casually walk in. For the new CEO's title I was under the impression that 'Direktorin' was the right name, but we have a discussion whether it should be 'Geschäftsführerin'. I have a feeling the latter is better suited for a store like Media Markt, where you have a store that belongs to a company, and where you are selling directly to customers: ein Geschäft.

Am I right in this thinking, or is 'Geschäftsführer' better suited for all company structure CEO's?


  • That question isn't about language, but about legal terms. The title Geschäftsführer is reserved by law for the persons who act per procurationem of the company. They sign the papers i.V. („in Vertretung”) and these papers are directly legally binding to the company. If your "branch CEO" isn't allowed to do that because the branch is not a company of its own but rather an agency (and she hasn't per pro of the main company), she's not a „Geschäftsführerin”. So this all depends on how the branch is controlled by the main company. – Janka Apr 5 '17 at 5:57

In modern usage "Geschäftsführer" would be the most usual choice.

"Direktor" is more typical for a 19th or early 20th century business environment, as in "der Herr Fabrikdirektor", or for some educational institutions (Museumsdirektor, Gymnasialdirektor, Volkshochschuldirektor) etc. You also find it in Zirkusdirektor which again comes from the old days.

Being somehow old-style, in an industrial context the word "Direktor" is likely to evoke in people's minds the image of a fat avuncular type in striped trousers, black tailcoat, and a tophat on his head and of course smoking a cigar. Don't forget the monocle. So that's a 1870-1920 stereotype.

The "Geschäfts" part of "Geschäftsführer" bears no implication of the business he/she manages being a "Geschäft" in the sense of "shop". "Geschäftsführer is simply "he who runs the business". So you may well be the Geschäftsführer of a car repair company or Geschäftsführer of a business consultancy or whatever.

Interestingly, however, "Ladenhüter" is not "he who looks after the shop" (which would be a reasonable literal understanding), it rather is stuff on sale that sits in the rafters and does not get sold for months.

So, to answer your conclusive question: yes, you may use "Geschäftsführer" as a synonym of "CEO", or vice versa. All those who want to be modern, dynamic, startupish, cool and internationally recognizable nowadays call themselves "CEO" (notably also those who run single-person businesses). But as long as you operate in the German speaking part of the world, or want to avoid hip terminology, "Geschäftsführer" is a solid solution.

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  • I don't agree with the image you seem to connect quite strongly with Direktor. I would have defined it as pretty advanced a management rank, which in a big company might still be below Geschäftsführer. It is also still a public servant level. – guidot Jun 2 at 12:01

Direktor, Direktorin, Chef, ...

Generally describe the boss of something. It may be the boss of a special kinds of schools (Direktor eines Gymnasiums) or as Christian already said the boss of a factory ("Fabrikdirektor").

Geschäftsführer, Vorstand, Vorstandsvorsitzender or Aufsichtsrat

These words are reserved for certain types of companies and the exact position of a boss.

The boss of a "GmbH" type company for example is a "Geschäftsführer" while the boss of a "AG" type company is a "Vorstandsvorsitzender".

Am I right in this thinking, or is 'Geschäftsführer' better suited for all company structure CEO's?

Especially on official documents you'll have to use the formally correct name for the position. If an "AG" type company for example releases a document saying a person is the company's "Geschäftsführer" the company can get juristic trouble with the government administration!

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  • Wow, thanks for your elaborate answer. She will be CEO of a GmbH, so Geschäftsführer is best. I think that was used for the last CEO as well, but it just sounded wrong in Egnlish/Dutch. – user3198482 Apr 5 '17 at 8:32

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