Crimson Flags You Will not See on a CEO’s Resume

CURT NICKISCH: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Enterprise Evaluate. I’m Curt Nickisch.

When you imagine about it, employing is an workout in predicting the potential. You’re picturing the end result you want, and you’re obtaining out if the man or woman you want will be ready to generate that long run with you. You’ve obtained their resume, you converse to persons who’ve labored with them, and you interview them, check with them their most significant weakness, and there are those people intangibles, that very little voice that you know afterwards that you must have listened to.

All that looms even larger sized when you’re filling the leading job at an business, the chief government. At stake is the future of the firm, a potential that affects so quite a few men and women. The fantastic rendezvous of talent established and management is elusive. Today’s guest has been reverse-engineering the performances of CEOs, and has observed some surprising correlations amongst their personal actions right before they ended up hired and their skilled history just after they have been employed, so a lot so that you might have never ever imagined to look at these characteristics. In point, many boards really do not.

Aiyesha Dey is an Affiliate Professor at Harvard Business University, and she wrote the HBR post, When Hiring CEOs, Concentration on Character. Aiyesha, so fired up to discuss to you.

AIYESHA DEY: Thank you, Curt. Thank you for acquiring me.

CURT NICKISCH: How did you get fascinated in learning this?

AIYESHA DEY: The roots of this go way again to my dissertation. Corporate governance was usually of fascination to me, and right then, we had the huge scandals of Enron and WorldCom and some other companies, and then we had the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that Congress released with the host of systemic fixes that’ll reduce fraud, but we experienced all these controls, but then we have a layer of scandals again, and then we have far more regulation, and much more fixes, and it got me and my colleagues to consider that, “Are we lacking a little something right here?”

I suggest, it is not to say that structural fixes are not critical. They certainly are, but they are not possibly the full option, so what are we missing? Is there anything else, and can we go into the psychology of the person a small bit and see, “What about them matters?” I signify, it’s possible we all realize, of course, people today issue. We need to have to take into consideration that, but what about them do we take into account? What do we glimpse for?

CURT NICKISCH: What is although, the customary way that company boards and government committees go about employing a CEO? What’s their MO?

AIYESHA DEY: Businesses almost certainly to start with determine, “What is it that we want to do, and who is the best man or woman to get us there?” Like if you want to definitely develop, you want an individual who’s been effective in increasing a company and growing, so you likely glimpse at general performance, et cetera, and via most likely a look for committee or a variety committee, which is the norm, I think in most providers, based mostly on discussions with unique executives and board users, they most likely are not hunting at off-the-work behaviors, particularly when an individual has been promoted from within just. Typically, in lecturers, we often considered for decades that aspects such as business things, agency factors, countrywide variables fundamentally determine how a particular person is heading to act, so if you want an govt to behave a certain way, give him or her a particular amount of incentives and they will respond to it.

The concept is absolutely everyone will behave the similar to a sure amount of incentives specified to the man or woman. It is that assumption. There have been many students that have reported, “Well, person human actions, like Hambrick and Mason, is a extremely common study that first mentioned that …” They identified as it the higher echelons theory, and they explained managers’ knowledge, values, cognitive types deeply effects their behaviors and corporations, and the idea staying, not all people will behave the identical to the stage of incentives and these other components that are introduced to them, so individual traits issue.

CURT NICKISCH: That appears when you say it so clear, but that’s not actually … There is not a way to sort of qualify that in the full choosing approach.

AIYESHA DEY: Right, and I think one of the worries is, all right, even if we believe in idea and now, data has demonstrated it, is that particular person choices or character issues, how do we measure it? How do we know these are this sort of intangible, unobservable characteristics? How do we even know what a human being is? I indicate, in an interview, you have their CV, you’ve noticed what they’ve carried out at least in their specialist existence, they are at their best … I indicate, how do you know what is deep within a person, so I assume one of the issues is just measurement.

Like how can boards explain to? If you consider about big frauds that have occurred, uncovered, of course, you can see, “Oh God, that was a purple flag. I can see,” but that is as well late. Just one of our goals was, “Is there any way we can determine symptoms that could be red flags right before anything happened?” That’s the protect against, the tens of millions of pounds of losses that several stakeholders and the overall economy may facial area just after the point.

CURT NICKISCH: How did you determine out a analysis way to type out these unique distinctions that may well be significant?

AIYESHA DEY: The first matter we wanted to do is we wished to, specified that we want to appear at person personality qualities or characteristics, we wished to go absent from the business. If you want to truly get to the human being, let’s search what they do off the work, when there is no incentives, no constraints. They act who they are in most scenarios, and so let’s target on that.

Then, we needed to, properly, seem at, “Well, let’s take a look at literatures.” Like what are some of the critical fundamental qualities of human beings that come out as signs or symptoms in their particular outdoors habits?

CURT NICKISCH: So you looked at white collar criminals for clues in this article of matters to seem for?

AIYESHA DEY: Initially, we just appeared at psychology and criminology, and we read through a large amount of issues, and just this criminology literature suggested the existence of breaking the regulation, the thought of when you crack the law, what it is … It’s a exterior symptom. The fundamental assemble of this exterior symptom of breaking the legislation is that you have minimal self-handle and you have a disregard for policies, regulations, norms, you sense they do not apply to you, and you are inclined to do what you want to do irrespective of current norms or regulations. That is the fundamental construct, and the way it reveals itself, the exterior indications are you’re arrested for just legal records, lawful infractions, so we said, “Well, if that is the circumstance, let us look at executives with legal infractions in their personal everyday living,” which are opportunity symptoms of this fundamental idea of lack of self-manage and disregard for norms and policies.

CURT NICKISCH: So this can array from a speeding ticket, like a driving infraction to bodily, sexual assault.

AIYESHA DEY: Yeah, sexual assault, DUI, like something in their particular existence and-

CURT NICKISCH: Murder, bank robberies.

AIYESHA DEY: Properly, in our sample of CEOs, we don’t genuinely have bank robbers and ex-murderers, but surprisingly, we have some of the other extreme … There’s domestic violence, sexual assault. There is a ton of this sort of types of extra intense infractions in addition to dashing tickets.

CURT NICKISCH: And do these types of issues come up in history checks, but persons get employed in any case?

AIYESHA DEY: Which is the detail. This fascinating point initially was like, wowee, there are truly CEOs with this in their backgrounds, so they in some way … I imply, it was in our sample that thousand CEOs, about 20% had these types of infractions, so 20% of the CEOs in some way were not prevented from that situation offered their qualifications, possibly they ended up not checked or it did not make any difference. Of class, at first, we had been like, “Well, these insignificant infractions, do we care?” Like speeding ticket, most folks have them, but then, there were being influential researchers like economists, Ray Fisman and Edward Miguel.

A person of the issues they identified is that for a UN conference in New York, the range of parking tickets had been extremely correlated. Whoever got these parking tickets were being correlated with a corruption back in their property region. One particular summary of that is even small lawful violations or infractions are correlated with some greater corruption or even bigger concerns, so that built us consider that, “Well, we shouldn’t rule out small,” and yeah, intuitively, it shouldn’t make any difference, but then, permit the knowledge inform us that.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. Was not there some analysis in which executives with dashing tickets often had improved monetary general performance, it was a indication of possibility-having that normally compensated off?

AIYESHA DEY: I do not remember. In our study, we checked for it. We truly do not uncover … We do discover an upside for our other character measure, which I can talk about in a little bit, materialism, but for this, we basically don’t obtain larger upsides automatically, and we handle for chance-taking and a host of other traits. You see, we’re not capturing risk-having.

We’re capturing this other construct, with any luck ,. Of course, I should really be aware, these are empirical proxies. Of study course, they are noisy, but on regular, the hope is we seize the build we’re following. We did a match sample of fraud compared to non-fraud firms, and curiously, we discovered, even for the CEOs of fraud corporations experienced considerably bigger dashing tickets as opposed to CEOs of non-fraud firms.

CURT NICKISCH: Was your research minimal to the U.S.?

AIYESHA DEY: Sure, just partly because of the information.

CURT NICKISCH: Positive, so this can change a ton by nation and what you’re able to locate out, ideal, but yeah.

AIYESHA DEY: It could. To the extent, human character is the very same all over the place. I indicate, 1 idea is we would possibly see identical results in other nations, but then once more, other environmental institutional differences can appear in, and so, of course, it would have to be analyzed, but I do believe there are some intercontinental research that have appeared at prison data and actions, and they uncovered related conclusions, so it appears to keep internationally as well.

CURT NICKISCH: Remaining with felony infractions in this article, speeding tickets, particularly if you have a whole lot of them experienced a solid Correlation with corporate fraud?

AIYESHA DEY: Yeah, corporate fraud, earnings manipulation. Yeah, and which was originally stunning that, oh wow, even rushing tickets give you an effect, but then yet again, this goes again to the principle and what Fisman and Miguel identified, that even tiny infractions are signs of a larger detail. That underlying plan is, “I really do not feel policies and guidelines apply to me. I’m going to do what I want to do, and it does not make any difference what restrictions are in my way. I’m heading to disregard them.” I think which is the assemble, and it apparently displays by itself even in insignificant infractions.

CURT NICKISCH: What about far more serious infractions?

AIYESHA DEY: Yeah. In truth, so right after we seemed at the fraud outcomes, we even looked at insider trading since that’s a a lot more … Fraud is reasonably uncommon, let’s facial area it. Perhaps a single to 2% of all public companies are engaged in fraud. But something like insider trading is substantially additional prevalent, that insider investing that we calculated is not necessarily illegal, but the way that, if specific executives are persistently benefiting or undertaking actually perfectly as opposed to other individuals, it could be, one particular could argue that they have benefited from private materials facts, but so just to take note that this is not necessarily illegal. It could be, but we can establish, at the very least.

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah, but just type of suspiciously, it might not rise to the level of the SEC heading immediately after these executives, but to the level of your analysis, it indicated that there is perhaps some.

AIYESHA DEY: Exactly. Yeah, potentially. Attention-grabbing thing in that research is we went on to check with, “Well, all right, so now with the basis of a couple of projects, we see that people with criminal infractions and the off-the-occupation in their personalized lives look to be correlated with these types of functions on the task as effectively, what about the structural governance devices? Can they avert this sort of conduct? Can they self-discipline these executives?”

What we observed is that great structural governance can self-control insignificant file holders, the rushing tickets, but the extreme types were being producing the revenue anyway irrespective of individuals. That was possibly alarming, I guess, to regulators and boards that, well, it only goes so much.

CURT NICKISCH: Outside of criminal data, you also appeared at materialism as an indicator of poor govt behavior, and this is so appealing to check out to figure out what materialism is for an individual who’s compensated tens of millions of pounds generally.


CURT NICKISCH: How did you determine out a way to glimpse at that?

AIYESHA DEY: Ideal. I mean, I think the 1st is, the notion is that your focus is so a lot on wealth, possession, position, all of these matters, that you go immediately after it inspite of the charge it may impose to some others, the surroundings, your close friends, your loved ones, even yourself, so I consider that’s the fundamental construct, the zealous pursuit of content belongings regardless of the price to other people and the natural environment. The way it reveals by itself is, of course, the 1st issue is plenty of luxury belongings, appropriate? That is the end result, but again, measuring it in a big sample is a problem due to the fact not all people having that is materialistic, for the reason that don’t forget, it’s not just the possession of luxury objects is not materialistic, it is what you would do to get those, suitable? What are you inclined to have interaction in behavior that can be poor for your shareholders and other stakeholders simply because of your zealous pursuit of product possessions?

That is materialistic. I want to note just one point when you reported that CEOs have loads of income. Of system, they’ll invest. Try to remember, this is when we calculated it, it is relative to other CEOs and your peers and neighbors, so they are all in the identical wealth bracket. I suggest, so consider about Warren Buffett and assume about Dennis Kozlowski, or like similar wealth buckets, but extremely distinct attitudes in the direction of acquisition.

CURT NICKISCH: So you seemed for matters like the dimension of someone’s boat, the price of their household, and how it in contrast to the marketplace that they are living in?

AIYESHA DEY: Precisely. Like if their properties or their trip households are like two to 5 situations much more, then that, in that community, et cetera, and we control for wealth and all of that.

CURT NICKISCH: What did you locate for correlating materialistic behavior for an individual at that stage?

AIYESHA DEY: For materialistic executives, we also identified that the money reporting danger of their business is a lot increased than frugal or non-materialistic executives, but interestingly, the cause why was incredibly various. Like in the first circumstance with the lawful history holders, the explanation was they them selves perpetrated a good deal of the fraud. They were being individually named, but for materialistic executives, they themselves did not commit the fraud, at the very least in our sample. On the other hand, what they did was due to the fact of their administration model, they produced a culture of loose controls, unfastened checks so that other people found additional possibility to dedicate the fraud, so they amplified the fraud risk via a society channel, if you will, exactly where their style developed an atmosphere where by others uncovered it a lot easier to just consider the prospect to interact in fraud.

CURT NICKISCH: Was there any distinction – I’m just curious if there was any change across industries or geographies?

AIYESHA DEY: Not seriously. I imply, this, once more, you are who you are idea, the nature effect predominates. I mean, of class, a financial institution sample was banking in the economic sector. It was genuinely interesting just after the deregulation of the financial sector, which promoted a ton of possibility-taking incentives in there. We basically did uncover a large influx of materialistic executives going into that sector, so that was … I indicate, of system, there is a self-variety heading on, like particular forms of persons get attracted to certain industries.

CURT NICKISCH: So most boards, is it your comprehension that most boards don’t genuinely glimpse at these attributes appropriate now, not specifically like this?

AIYESHA DEY: Yet again, this is dependent on just conversations with some administrators and executives. They probably definitely really don’t seem at a lavish lifestyle in the off-the-occupation. They possibly do not take into consideration rushing tickets. Perhaps extra extreme infractions, primarily if you’re hiring from exterior. Possibly rushing tickets really don’t even raise-

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. You could possibly see a very long list and just imagine, “Well, they have a rapid car or truck, or something.”

AIYESHA DEY: Accurately.

CURT NICKISCH: And now you may feel twice.


Yeah. I suggest, yet again, of course, you do not want to make your choosing conclusions centered on dashing tickets, et cetera, but I assume 1 detail we can say based on the facts, if there is a lot of this kind of infractions, specifically not too long ago, shell out interest. It might be conveying a further character trait.

CURT NICKISCH: Is it feasible to look for materialistic habits in a CEO that you might be selecting?

AIYESHA DEY: Again, I ought to condition we did obtain it for materialistic executives in the financial institution sample, that they have been in the highest returns and the maximum hazard. They had been on both of those tails, so they can take their corporations to highs and lows. I mean, so all over again, as a shareholder, you might in fact want that. If you are a regulator, thinking of the full economic system, you could possibly think 2 times, all over again, so we just cannot say dependent on our research, “Do not retain the services of these men and women.” On the other hand, provided what our facts has revealed, if you notice these behaviors, boards must at minimum be aware and consider about it’s possible governing in different ways or asking concerns, or most likely they can choose not to retain the services of them, but at the very least based mostly on this exploration, you just cannot disregard.

CURT NICKISCH: You do hear from a good deal of persons who employ the service of individuals and conclude up generating a terrible use, that they say, “You know, there have been symptoms. There was a tiny voice conversing to me.” Ideal? “I wish I would’ve listened to that more,” and in a way, you’re supplying people much more details factors to basically give additional credence, make that little voice a small little bit louder so that they can assess the person which is in entrance of them as correctly as they can.

AIYESHA DEY: I feel you set it very properly, Curt. I believe that is actually what our exploration can do, is locate observable off-the-task indicators that can give you a minor pause to consider a minor further about the human being, so the key getting observable due to the fact we can see these issues. We can notice them, and then you can believe about what to do with that.

CURT NICKISCH: Choosing a CEO, it’s a vital, very important using the services of determination. Is there any price in your investigation for entry-degree using the services of, mid-level using the services of, selecting in other pieces of the firm? What can any individual else who’s not on a board or government committee or a employing committee for the future CEO get away from this?

AIYESHA DEY: Yeah, and terrific issue. You normally see fraud instances that occur in decrease amounts as effectively, exactly where the top had no strategy of excellent society from, so the nature strategy most likely predominates in all places. It is human mother nature, so we really don’t assume it to be incredibly diverse, and in fact, in a couple of circumstances, these are scenario experiments I have appeared at, we have observed evidence of this personality-dominating even in lower-level personnel, so yet again, we haven’t performed substantial sample investigation on the reduce-stage persons, but at the very least intuitively, to the extent the principle on how human mother nature provides by itself, even on the job, I would say even if you’re earning entry-amount decisions, why overlook indicators like authorized infractions in the previous, especially if they’re modern and they’re a large amount, specified that this has demonstrated up in other features?

CURT NICKISCH: Yeah. Obtained it. Aiyesha, thank so a great deal for coming on the present to speak about your investigation. This is genuinely, genuinely good.

AIYESHA DEY: Thank you, Curt. Thank you for obtaining me and listening to my work. I genuinely enjoy the invitation.

CURT NICKISCH: Which is Aiyesha Dey, an Affiliate Professor at Harvard Enterprise University and the creator of the HBR write-up, When Hiring CEOs, Aim on Character. You can discover it at or in the July, August 2022 problem of the journal.

If you acquired anything from today’s episode, we have much more podcasts to help you take care of your staff, manage companies, and regulate your vocation. Obtain them at, or research HBR in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or where ever you hear.

This episode was developed by Mary Dooe, we get technical enable from Rob Eckhardt, our Audio Product Supervisor is Ian Fox, and Hannah Bates is our Audio Creation Assistant. Many thanks for listening to the HBR IdeaCast. We’ll be back with a new episode on Tuesday. I’m Curt Nickisch.

Share this post

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *