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Superstar CEOs Don't Equal Superstar Performance

Posted by: Jena McGregor on July 6, 2008

It’s one of those things we all learned in the scandal-laden earlier years of this decade: Celebrity CEOs aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Those who get showered with praise at one point may be superstar CEOs, but that doesn’t mean they have superstar performance.

According to a new study by Berkeley and UCLA professors, CEOs who won awards from organizations like (ahem) BusinessWeek or other business publications received more stock and options from their companies after the award was given than their peers who didn’t win awards. But at the same time, the nonwinning CEOs outperformed those who were recognized.

The study raises all kinds of interesting questions about well, how CEOs recognized in the business press are viewed. But I think the best line in the Wall Street Journal’s blog about the study is this one: “The economists found that the award-winners wrote more books. They also had lower golf handicaps.”

Reader Comments

Wally Bock

July 8, 2008 5:39 PM

This is not news, but it is important. I blogged about this last fall in a post titled "Put your trust in systems, not in genius." Here's the key bit.

"What do Toyota and the Roman Army have in common? They both rely on systems instead of heroes and talented geniuses to produce results. They both created systems that enabled ordinary people to produce world-conquering results."

Mike Myatt

July 10, 2008 11:47 AM

This gives testimony to the power of personal branding. The strength of a CEO's PR prowess is clearly often times disconnected from success in the performance of their duties.

My comments above are consistent with my having a bit of a different take on this than Wally. To achieve sustainable success you need both solid business process and excellent leadership...They go hand-in-hand. The Roman army had several outstanding leaders...Who do you think designed their military strategy and implemented their battlefield tactics?

In my blog "Finding the Zone" ( I discuss what it takes to improve performance.


July 23, 2008 6:45 PM

Spin and image is very much a part of the leadership game these days, more so that results or profits. Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on impressing the shareholders with Superstars. I was looking at some videos done by my advanced voicemail provider Gotvmail, and they proved the point that image can be more important that results. They have Gary Busey, classic N. American wacko, expound upon entrepreneurial values. And just by the production quality and context, Busey looks and sounds, well, convincing. This can be applied to how a CEO is presented to shareholders as well. See for yourself...

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