I have to say that sometimes it just gets plain funny. There are so many forms of CEO-bashing today that it has become a legitimate sport. I recall one study concluding that most CEOs are sociopaths at heart. Another found that CEOs tend to have thicker waist lines and unusually strong maternal figures in their lives.
A common refrain, however, is that CEOs are extraordinarily narcissistic. A recent column in the Financial Times by Francesco Guerrera reported on new research linking CEO egos and failed strategic choices. The survey by Arijit Chatterjee and Donald C. Hambrick of Penn State examined the size of annual report photos, number of “I”s in shareholder letters, the length of Who’s Who CEO bios and CEO compensation to strategic corporate disasters. According to the research, bigger-sized CEO egotists take bigger risks (such as losing acquisitions, outsized product launches and aggressive expansions). “Would General Electric have launched a blockbuster bid for its rival Honeywell and fought an acrimonious and ultimately doomed battle without Jack Welch at the helm?” writes the reporter. Although I respect the work of Donald Hambrick (I quoted him frequently in my book) and have not personally read the new research (trying to locate it), its title gives away its underlying CEO cynicism: “It’s All About Me: Narcissistic CEOs and Their Effects on Company Strategy and Performance.”
Guerrera does call on boards to rein in ego-laden CEOs but sometimes we have to ask ourselves whether economies would have grown so fast if every company decision was up to a vote and safe as could be. Would the Google guys have jumpstarted their search engine business waiting for every “t” to be crossed? Same with Apple, Microsoft, e-bay and Amazon? Sometimes business succeeds based on an oversized hunch by a would-be CEO.
CEO bashing, CEO sociopaths, CEO egos, Financial Times, Arijit Chatterjee, Donald C. Hambrick, Who’s Who, Francesco Guerrera, Google, Apple, Microsoft, ebay, Amazon, Jack Welch, Honeywell, Penn State