Narcissism as a Predictor of Company Performance

Alex Frino, the dean of Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, used natural language technology to scour quarterly earnings call transcripts of the 100 largest American companies to calculate the ratio between how frequently CEOs use the pronouns “I,” “me” or “mine” versus “we,” “our” or “ours.” Ranking the CEOs in his sample by that metric, he was able to compile a list of apparent CEO humility that named Pat Gelsinger (CEO of VMware), Gregg Steinhafel (CEO of Target) and Omar Ishrak (CEO of Medtronic) as the three least narcissistic by that metric.

Frino’s research looked at the link between his narcissistic metric for U.S. CEOs and company performance. It’s an analysis MGSM already performed in Australia, where he found that the group of large Australian companies headed by the least narcissistic chief executives had annualized stock returns that were nearly twice that of the group of most narcissistic CEOs for the period of September 2011 to March 2013.

The study found that the ten least narcissistic American CEOs include:

  1. Patrick Gelsinger VMware Labs
  2. Gregg W. Steinhafel Target
  3. Omar S. Ishrak Medtronic
  4. Donald Thompson McDonalds
  5. Sheldon Gary Adelson Las Vegas Sands
  6. Brian T. Moynihan Bank of America
  7. David C. Novak Yum! Brands
  8. Carol M. Meyrowitz TJX
  9. Marillyn A. Hewson Lockheed Martin
  10. Indra K. Nooyi PepsiCo

Interestingly, the list includes a list of high and medium performers. VMware, LVS, TJX and Yum! Brands (our 2012 Chief Executive of the Year) have led their respective categories while Target, Medtronic, McDonalds and Pepsico have been struggling to regain momentum. So the link Frino contends isn’t as obvious as it may have been among the Australian companies the school studied. Servant-leader self-effacement has its attractions, depending upon the culture, but so does in the right context, egotism. Palo Alto-based VMware is the only company representing Silicon Valley, not a sector especially known for humility. In addition, we notice that Wall Street investment firms are conspicuous by their absence on the list.

The research team, led by MGSM’s Dean, Professor Alex Frino, is developing a new natural language technology to identify narcissism, as well as other personality traits, by analyzing CEO’s verbal communications. The team will use the data to examine whether narcissistic CEOs build better performing management structures, if they are able to extract higher pay from their remuneration committees, generate greater shareholder returns and are better Communicators. The study ultimately aims to quantify leadership qualities as predictors of company performance in the market, as well as informing strategies to better educate company leaders of tomorrow.

“Many leaders dominating the workforce today possess narcissistic leadership traits, and in this era of constant change and innovation, it seems natural that charismatic, risk takers would take charge,” Frino said. “Is narcissism, generally viewed as a personality defect, actually a good thing? Does the world in fact need more narcissistic CEOs? Or is this a trait we should be actively teaching future leaders to avoid?”

Professor Frino said the study would directly inform MGSM curricula. “I’m in the business of creating the next wave of elite businesspeople,” he said. “This is an innovative top-down approach to identifying what personality traits typify very successful executives, so we can work that knowledge into the way we educate and mentor our students.”

Narcissism is only one of many personality traits that are to be examined by the team, who are also developing a natural language technology platform which enables users to extract personality traits through the impromptu communications given by CEOs.



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