What determines a company's performance? The shape of the CEO's face

Believe it or not, one thing that predicts how well a CEO's company performs is the width of his face. CEOs with wider faces, like Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines, have better-performing companies than CEOs like Dick Fuld, the long-faced final CEO of Lehman Brothers. 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.

Elaine M. Wong at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her colleagues study how top work. But they have to do it in indirect ways. "CEOs and 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 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 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.

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sstritt
5 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2011
Makes perfect sense. Just look at the top notch organization that Jabba the Hut ran. Seriously, who funded this?
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2011
Jabba the Hut of course:)
sstritt
5 / 5 (2) Aug 25, 2011
Jabba the Hut of course:)

Should've seen that coming
shortbus
5 / 5 (3) Aug 25, 2011
Explains why our CEO at [big company] is a hammerhead shark.
Who_Wants_to_Know
5 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2011
Reminds me of an old study that found people who drink 2 or more cups of coffee a day are half as likely to commit suicide as people who don't.

Interesting concept, fun to read about, but 55 CEO's out of thousands, and all the confounding factors hardly makes for solid science.

Correlation is Not Causation

And who is paying the bill? Wonder if this was another study courtesy of the NIH via the American tax payer, and nice little loans from China?
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
Isn't facial width also a determinant of fraudulence? I recall reading that a fortnight ago on this site.
Kyleric
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
That's why Steve Jobs resigned as CEO... his face was too emaciated.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2011
That's why Steve Jobs resigned as CEO... his face was too emaciated.

Yes. Being ranked at number 35 in the fortune 500 makes Apple a not-so-succesfull cmopany.

Correlation is Not Causation

This bears repeating. That a correlates with B does not mean that striving for B will get you a better chance at A.

rawa1
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
Physiognomy at its best http://upload.wik...ta59.jpg
Bookbinder
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
As is often the case, the correlation does hint at causality mecahnisms. In this case wider face, higher testosterone, greater aggression, better perfomance. Makes sense, not just mindless correlation.
Who_Wants_to_Know
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
@bookbinder - one can come up with 'hints at causality' in all sorts of different correlations. That's how superstitions persist, and how we make sense of things that really don't. So, I'll repeat one of the very bases tenets of the scientific method:

Correlation is NOT Causation. In spite of how tempting it is to find 'hints.'
sstritt
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
That's why Steve Jobs resigned as CEO... his face was too emaciated.

Too soon
Telekinetic
not rated yet Aug 27, 2011
"... have better-performing companies than CEOs like Dick Fuld, the long-faced final CEO of Lehman Brothers."
Hey, Dick, why the long face?
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 27, 2011
As is often the case, the correlation does hint at causality mecahnisms. In this case wider face, higher testosterone, greater aggression, better perfomance. Makes sense, not just mindless correlation.
Yes, and whenever ice cream sales rise, so do shark attacks.