Do Pilots Make Better CEOs?

Do Pilots Make Better CEOs?
Do Pilots Make Better CEOs?
Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 1:30pm

CEOs who are also pilots may be more successful leaders. That’s the conclusion of a study by Matthew Cain, assistant professor of finance at Notre Dame, and Stephen McKeon, assistant professor of finance at the University of Oregon. According to their research, the urge to fly an airplane results from an inherited tendency towards risky behavior–a tendency that appears to produce more aggressive performance and success in the corporate world. Firms led by CEO pilots typically have more debt and greater stock volatility and engage in more mergers and acquisitions. 

On the other hand, having a CEO who flies his or her own airplane is considered to be a little too risky by some corporate boards. This concern often leads to some sort of compromise, such as insisting that the chief executive always fly with a copilot or purchase “key person” insurance, which would compensate the firm for financial losses should its leader die while in office.

The still-unpublished “Cleared for Takeoff? CEO Personal Risk-Taking and Corporate Policies” is based on 18 years’ worth of information about 3,110 CEO pilots.

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“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”

-Howard Guy of Design Q, a UK-based consultancy