The Origins and Formative Years of the Chief Executive Officer
In 1989, America's 800 highest paid business CEOs ran companies that employed 20 million workers and generated $3.2 trillion in revenues ( "The power and the pay," 1989). What is known about these business leaders? How did they rise to such prestigious and powerful positions? Are people from particular backgrounds more likely to become top executives? Do today's CEOs differ in origins and background from their predecessors of previous generations?
Since the beginning of the large-scale business enterprise there has been interest in the backgrounds of the executives who direct and shape these organizations. Early researchers asked: Are there common threads in their origins and formative years that might prove to be indicators of future success? In this chapter we will ask and answer that question as well as the additional question: What long-term trends may have changed over time and what new trends, if any, may have arisen in recent years?
Gregory and Nau ( 1962) examined the social origins of 300 business leaders in the textile, steel, and railroad industries in the 1870-1879 decade. Miller ( 1962) analyzed similar data for 190 chairmen and presidents of leading industrial firms, public utilities, and financial institutions for the 1901-1910 time period. In her comprehensive study of 428 leading business executives, Newcomer ( 1955) chose three time periods: 1900, 1925, and 1950. Warner and Abegglen ( 1955) examined the backgrounds of more than 8,500 business leaders through questionnaires and personal interviews. We conducted a detailed study of the background of the 791 top CEOs in 1978 ( Piercy & Forbes, 1981) and have