ScienceDaily (Aug. 25, 2011) — Believe it or not, one thing that predicts how well a CEO’s company performs is — the width of the CEO’s face! CEOs with wider faces have better-performing companies than CEOs with long faces. That’s the conclusion of a new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Image via WikipediaElaine M. Wong at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her colleagues study how top management teams work. But they have to do it in indirect ways. “CEOs and top executives don’t typically have time to talk with researchers or take batteries of tests,” she says. “Our research has primarily been at a distance.” They’ve analyzed the content of letters to shareholders and looked at things like how a CEO’s educational or personal background affects how well his or her company does. Wong and her colleagues, Margaret E. Ormiston of London Business School and Michael P. Haselhuhn of UWM, wanted to look at another aspect of CEOs – their faces.
Looking at faces isn’t as crazy as it might sound. Several studies have shown that the ratio of face width to face height is correlated with aggression. Hockey players with wider faces spend more time in the penalty box for fighting. Men with higher facial width are seen as less trustworthy and they feel more powerful.
“Most of these are seen as negative things, but power can have some positive effects,” Wong says. People who feel powerful tend to look at the big picture rather than focusing on small details and are also better at staying on task. She and her colleagues thought that feeling of power might also be correlated with a company’s financial performance.
Wong and her colleagues based their analyses on photos of 55 male CEOs of publicly-traded Fortune 500 organizations. They only used men because this relationship between face shape and behavior has only been found to apply to men; it’s thought to have something to do with testosterone levels. They also gathered information on the companies’ financial performance and analyzed shareholder letters to get a sense of the kind of thinking that goes on at those companies.
CEOs with a wider face, relative to the face’s height, had much better firm financial performance than CEOs who had narrower faces. “In our sample, the CEOs with the higher facial ratios actually achieved significantly greater firm financial performance than CEOs with the lower facial ratios,” Wong says.
Don’t run out and invest in wide-faced CEOs’ companies, though. Wong and her colleagues also found that the way the top management team thinks, as reflected in their writings, can get in the way of this effect. Teams that take a simplistic view of the world, in which everything is black and white, are thought to be more deferential to authority; in these companies, the CEO’s face shape is more important. It’s less important in companies where the top managers see the world more in shades of gray.
Post-Jobs Apple: New research shows Cook will do fine
Performance as CEO all a matter of how wide your head is
Forget about your Ivy League/Oxbridge/Harvard business school education, your connections or how many millions in personal funds you can plough into the business: the one thing you really need as a CEO is a big face, at least according to a new study to be published in journal Psychological Science.
Elaine M Wong of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her colleagues analysed photos of 55 male CEOs of publicly-traded Fortune 500 organisations and found that chiefs with a wider face, relative to face height, had much better firm financial performance that those with narrower faces. (And if you’re wondering why this only applies to male CEOs, it is because the whole fat-face thing only works with men – apparently it has something to do with testosterone levels.)
According to Wong and her team, launching this study wasn’t completely out of left field, because previous studies had shown big-featured guys were more prone to aggression, seen as less trustworthy and felt more powerful – and they thought these attributes could be a winning combination for CEOs.
Good ratios: Rory Read,
CEO of AMD
“Most of these are seen as negative things, but power can have some positive effects,” she said.
Obviously, the Reg couldn’t help a little completely unscientific application of these conclusions considering the two new CEOs in the techie stable: Tim Cook at Apple and Rory Read at AMD.
AMD is looking good with Read, since although he’s not really got a big face, he hasn’t really got a very long face either, so the width-height ratio is probably good.
But Cook is definitely sporting some height there and with those slimly-defined cheekbones, could Apple be in trouble? But no wait, he’s practically Jobs’ face twin, they’re both rocking that lengthy angular look, and Jobs seemed to do OK. Could it be that the concept is not infallible?
Well, actually, it could. Wong’s team found that the way top management felt could interfere with the effect of the head honcho’s huge countenance. Teams that took a simplistic view of the world, in which everything is black and white, are thought to be more deferential to authority, so the CEO’s face-shape-mojo worked. Big heads are less important in companies where the top managers see the world in shades of grey. ®