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The still-unpublished “Cleared for Takeoff?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 I made the film The Invention of Lying, they gave me a private jet for getting back and forth between New York and London. I thought, ‘I will never use it’ but I ended up using it every weekend. You turn up, right, and the airport is completely empty. I mean, there’s just someone at the desk and then the pilot, who says, ‘Are you ready to go?’ and you say, ‘Don’t you want to see my passport?’ and he goes, ‘Oh yeah, I suppose I’d better.’” ”

-—actor and comedian Ricky Gervais