These types of CEOs tend to think outside the box

William Shakespeare once wrote: “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” And, while that may apply to star-crossed lovers in 16th century Italy, a new study finds that names may actually make a pretty big difference when it comes to CEOs.

Researchers from Rice University and Arizona State University say that CEOs with unusual names tend to make more unconventional decisions and implement outside the box strategies and policies more often.

“Using 19 years of data on 1,172 public firms, we show that firms’ distinctive strategies are systematically linked to their CEOs’ uncommon names,” the study’s authors explained in a university release.  

“Our findings can help all stakeholders to better understand and predict a CEO’s strategic decisions,” they continued. “Because CEOs with uncommon names tend to pursue distinctive strategies, boards that seek to enhance the distinctiveness of their firms’ strategies may want to hire CEOs with uncommon names.”

This study was conducted by Yan Anthea Zhang, a Professor of Strategy at Rice University, and Yungu Kang and David H. Zhu from Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

It isn’t exactly a secret that any company or organization’s fate is largely determined by the decisions made by their CEO. When a business or board is looking to name a new CEO, they usually consider factors and personality traits like leadership, perseverance, foresight, adaptability, and ingenuity. 

Up until now, though, no one had investigated how much a CEO’s name influences their organization’s outcomes. After performing this research, the study’s authors say that a CEO’s name can indeed influence that person’s behavior, decisions, and overall sense of self.

As a blanket statement, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of CEOs (with any type of name) are confident people. These are individuals who have risen to the top of their respective professions after all.

Researchers say that it’s this confidence, mixed with an ingrained belief that they are unique from their managerial peers, that allows many CEOs with unusual names to try out unconventional business strategies.

“Studies suggest that individuals with uncommon names tend to have a self-conception of being different from their peers,” the research team wrote. “Although many people may not have the confidence to exhibit how unique they believe themselves to be, CEOs do — they are generally confident individuals.”

Moreover, CEOs with uncommon names often want to set themselves apart from other CEOs, or even the general CEO stereotype, so they pursue organizational policies and strategies that no one was expecting.

“This is consistent with findings from psychological research that successful professionals who have uncommon names tend to view themselves as more special, unique, interesting and creative,” the study reads.

Attempting to stand out from the crowd is an admirable idea, but do most of these unusual policies actually work out? The research team seems to think so. They believe that unique business strategies are “critical for firms to obtain competitive advantage and achieve superior performance,”

“Other top executives, middle-level managers, and employees can also expect a higher likelihood of implementing distinctive strategies when their CEOs have more uncommon names,” the study’s authors conclude. “Competitors can expect a firm to engage in unusual competitive moves when the CEO has an uncommon name.”

The full study can be found here, published in the Strategic Management Journal.