Business Idioms: The People That Make It Happen

Silhouette Men turning and Pushing Cogs 175773252With phrases like “too big to fail” being thrown around left and right these days it can be easy to think of businesses – especially big business – as creatures with lives of their own. Even the largest company, however, is still reliant on its employees to help realize its vision and further its goals. It is with that in mind, then, that in this installment of our Business Idioms series is dedicated to the people who make big businesses hum.

Bean Counter – an accountant

  • We need the bean counters to look over the figures in the forecast before we present it to upper management.

Note: The beans in this idiom represent, as you probably could have guessed, money.

Number Cruncher – an accountant or, more generally, anyone who works closely with numbers (e.g., finance)

After all is said and done, even the most visionary chief executive relies on number crunchers to make sense of the company’s ledgers.

Note: This idiom is not only more general than bean counter but also more positive. When it doubt, use number cruncher – it is less likely to be received negatively.

Big Cheese – an important or otherwise senior person in an organization; a leader

  • It was clear from the outset that Tom was the big cheese on the negotiation team; everyone checked with him before finalizing any arrangement.

Note: Related forms of this idiom include the two-word variants “big gun,” “big kahuna,” and “big wheel and the one-word variant ”bigwig.”

Boys in the Backroom – the behind-the-scenes decision makers who dictate company policy

We weren’t sure what to think until the boys in the backroom informed us that the layoffs would be much less severe than we had originally feared.

Note: This idiom, as a collective descriptor of unseen people, can be applied to groups comprised entirely of men or, as necessary, to those made up of both genders.

Captain of Industry – a high-ranking (and often quite powerful) official within an organization; a business leader

  • After several years on the Board of Directors at several major telecoms firms Mark was undoubtedly a captain of industry; when he spoke people listened.

Cog/Grunt – a low-ranking employee who lacks power

  • Although James had worked for the company for several years he was still a lowly grunt. In fact he had never been asked to be in charge of so much as a picnic!

For more on business idioms – including lots of extra practice – see other blogs in this series. Or, check out other resources in our Learn English for Business section.


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