Shape of CEO's Face Linked to Company Performance

businessman giving a talk
Chief executives with wider faces tend to lead better-performing companies.

The shape of a CEO's face can predict his company's financial performance, according to a new study in which researchers analyzed photos of 55 male chief executive officers of Fortune 500 businesses.

The crucial feature: Facial width. Corporate leaders with faces that were wide relative to their length — such as Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines — tended to lead better-performing companies than CEOs with narrower faces, such as Dick Fuld, the long-faced final CEO of Lehman Brothers, the study found.

This finding follows research that has shown that the ratio of facial width to height is correlated with aggression in men. This relationship between face shape and behavior, which is thought to be related to testosterone levels, has not been shown to hold for women. [Finger Length Predicts Aggression in Men]   

Other research has shown men with wider faces are more likely than those with narrow faces to behave unethically. In a previous study using a computer game, researchers found broad-faced men were less trustworthy than other men.

In the new study, Elaine Wong at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her colleagues looked at the batch of CEO photos, along with information about the companies' financial performances and letters to shareholders.

"In our sample, the CEOs with the higher facial ratios actually achieved significantly greater firm financial performance than CEOS with the lower facial ratios," Wong said. (A higher width-to-height ratio means a wider face.)

But the researchers also found a complication: The top management team. Teams that take a black-and white-view of the world are thought to be more deferential to authority, and in companies with this mind-set, face shape is more important. Face shape is less important when top managers see the world in more nuanced terms.

Their research will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

You can follow LiveScience writer Wynne Parry on Twitter @Wynne_Parry. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.