Over the course of 2003 the post of Chief Executive Officer or CEO - effectively, the person at the top of the company - has become a notorious poisoned chalice for many incumbents, from Glaxo's Jean Paul Garnier to Marconi's Lord Morrison and Vodafone's Chris Gent. New government legislation offering shareholders the chance to vote on top people's remuneration packages has exposed some extraordinarily generous, even downright incredible, terms of employment, and triggered storms of protest. Golden parachutes - excessive pay-offs for resignation when the company does badly; bonuses triggered even when the company makes a loss; salaries that shoot up as fast as the share price plummets; vast share options, millions paid into pension plans, free dental care for your wife for life. All this plus a basic income into the high six figures for starters: being a CEO, it would seem, is nice work if you can get it. Now, Gideon Haigh investigates the whole cult that has grown up around the CEO. Why do we need him (almost always him)? What does he actually do? How did he come to be paid more even when the rest of the workforce is having to swallow a pay-cut and the closure of the final-salary pension scheme? Why, whatever the company's fortunes, does he always just get more? Would a company actually miss the CEO if it didn't have him at all?