Cosmetic Competence

Looks help executives succeed, Fuqua study says
August 1, 2010

Executive aesthetics: CVS head Thomas Ryan, left, earned higher marks for attractiveness and competence than Nike's Phil Knight, right. Ryan:Bloomberg via Getty Images; Knight: nikebiz.com

Appearance and success in the business world appear to be strongly correlated, according to the results of experiments by finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey, and Manju Puri at the Fuqua School of Business.

In one experiment, photos of CEOs of large and small companies were paired with photos of non-executives who had similar facial features, hairstyles, and clothing. (For the purposes of the experiments, only photos of white male CEOs were used. Researchers were concerned that because there are so few female and minority CEOs, participants would recognize them, thereby skewing the results.)

Participants were asked to rank the people in each pair of photos according to their attractiveness, competence, trustworthiness, and likeability. The results were mixed: While CEOs were judged to be more competent and attractive, they were also considered less trustworthy and less likeable.

Another experiment paired photos of CEOs of large firms with CEOs of small firms. The CEOs of large firms were considered more competent, while the CEOs of small firms were considered more attractive, trustworthy, and likeable.

The researchers say this means appearance is a significant factor in the way CEOs are evaluated and compensated. However, they found no evidence that a CEO's appearance is related to a company's profitability.