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Who is More Likely to Become a CEO

This article was written by in Career and Work. 12 comments.


There have been various studies as scientists and other curious individuals try to determine what aspects of a human make he or she more likely to become the chief executive of a company. There is a wide range of companies in the world, with CEOs to match. When you look at these studies — scientific or anecdotal — I’m not convinced there is much to learn, but they are interesting anyway.

This isn’t a list of things one should do in order to increase one’s chances of becoming a chief executive. These are just two things that might increase your chances that aren’t related to the typical “how to succeed” advice.

Be a first-born child. A recent study has shown that 43% of CEOs were born first, 23% were born last, and 33% were middle children. First-born children have higher expectations thrust upon them, given more responsibilities such as taking care of younger children, and have more of the personality traits that also help individuals succeed in business, like confidence and discipline.

Attend a public university. While Harvard University is the school that has produced the most future CEOs when compared to any other school, any one CEO is more likely to have attended a public university rather than a private. That’s by a four to one margin. That may be simply due to the fact there are more students attending public universities than private, but it also means that you certainly don’t have to be an Ivy League graduate to get the top spot.

A CEO-related study that would I would find interesting focuses on motivation. It would involve answers to the question of why one would want to become a CEO. Is it the money, benefits, prestige, stress, power, women, etc.? For most, I bet the answer would be money, without a doubt. That’s clearly a result of the outrageous compensation that many CEOs receive and are touted in the media. Perhaps this creates a drive among some people necessary for the economy to grow new, future business leaders.

First-Born Kids Become CEO Material [USA Today]
Harvard and Wisconsin Tie in Turning Out the Most CEOs in U.S. [Bloomberg]

Published or updated September 4, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Telemill

First-born and public university . . . I’m on my way!

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avatar Patrick

I think this is an interesting study. One thing it doesn’t mention though is single children – are they included, and are they counted as first born?

I think a lot of first born children have a natural leadership ability because they took it upon themselves to do so from an early age.

Public vs. Private education: I think it all depends on the person doing the studying. Those who have the drive and skill to succeed will do so wherever they go to school. Private schools just tend to open some doors that public schools may not, or at least not as quickly.

This is definitely interesting. :)

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avatar Robin

Second born, private schooled, and female. Clearly I’ll never get ahead.

I’m surprised that gender wasn’t mentioned. It’s probably the most common element of all: men, men, men.

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avatar KMC

Flexo, a study like you describe on CEO motivation sure would be interesting. I disagree with you though. I’d bet the primary motivator for CEOs is prestige.

I think the out-sized compensation packages aren’t because these guys want lots of money. It’s to compare themselves against their peers. They’re not immune to the disease most Americans seem to have of comparing themselves to others.

After all, after several tens of millions of dollars, I’d think you’d start to run out of things to spend money on except ‘trophies.’

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,386 (Platinum)

I’d like to own an island and resort, like Richard Branson… is that a trophy? I know I’d enjoy it. It’s not enough to foster a desire to be a Fortune 500 CEO, however. I’ll be fine as a visitor.

Prestige is an interesting motivator. Is it enough? I guess it depends on your peer group. I’d like to see a survey.

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avatar telemill

For some prestige is the BEST motivator. I’ve met them — they are frightening people.

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