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The Bald Truth About CEO’s

December 10, 2008

Follicly challenged CEO Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. The vast majority of executives in our unscientific survey said they would rather be bald than short.
By Kai-Uwe Knoth, AP
Follicly challenged CEO Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. The vast majority of executives in our unscientific survey said they would rather be bald than short.

By Del Jones, USA TODAY
CEOs seem to instinctively know that it’s better to be authoritative than indecisive. They know about the vision thing and the passion thing. They even know a few leadership lessons that aren’t taught in business school — such as, it helps to be tall.

But an unscientific survey of USA TODAY’s panel of CEOs and other evidence suggest that baldness might be a blind spot for many.

TELL US: If you had to change your hair or your height to make it to the top of the corporate ladder, which would you choose?

CEOs say being bald doesn’t impede success and, given a choice, it’s better to be bald than short. So widely held is this conventional wisdom among top executives that when asked to choose, most CEOs say they’d take 2 more inches of height over a full head of Robert Redford hair.

Even most bald CEOs, including many who are both tall and bald, would choose to be taller. “Lack of hair can only mean the brain is busy with more important functions,” says Murray Martin, the 5-foot-8 CEO of $5.7 billion Pitney Bowes, who is being generous when he describes his hair as “thinning.”
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“I don’t believe it ever (affected) my career. But as I progressed, it became less and less of an issue until it is now a point of pride and a personal branding advantage,” says Steve Carley, the 6-foot-1 bald CEO of El Pollo Loco. “It encourages approachability.”

As smart as they are, CEOs have been known as a group to get it wrong. It now appears that was the case just months ago when they almost universally said they didn’t see a recession looming. Could they also be collectively clueless about hair vs. height?

It’s not that being short is a career launching pad. Plenty of studies have found that taller men make more money, gain more success and attract more women. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs are 6-foot-2 and taller — vs. just 4% of all men.

Bald men are a much bigger slice of the general population. The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery estimates that 50% of Caucasian men older than 45 and 60% older than 60 have clinical balding. Stress can cause hair to fall out, so all things being equal, the percentage of bald leaders might be expected to be a little higher than average. Yet:

•If elected, John McCain would be the first bald U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower. To be fair, baldness, unlike height, can be a matter of opinion. At 71, some might say McCain is doing OK in the hair department for his age group. But pictures of 42 presidents indicate that less than 25% were bald or balding, when statistically it should be at least half.

•There are 41 male state governors. Those who are bald or balding make up less than 20% and, yes, that includes the aptly named John Baldacci of Maine. The hair-loss club dropped a governor Wednesday when New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced he would resign after being linked as a client to a prostitution ring. He will be replaced by Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who is not bald. Only 10% to 20% of the 84 male U.S. senators are bald or balding.

•Among corporate CEOs, women run four of the largest 125 companies on the Fortune 500. USA TODAY examined photos of the men and considered about 25% to be bald or balding. Bald men running the nation’s largest companies include Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Home Depot’s Francis Blake, Morgan Stanley’s John Mack and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein.

•It may be more difficult to be bald and extremely rich. Warren Buffett, the richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine, has lost hair in the past year but at 77 still retains a respectable amount. The richest American on the Forbes 400 list who is truly bald is No. 15 Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft. The response of “no comment” was as much a male pattern among CEOs as was their hairline, and Microsoft was among the large corporations with bald or balding CEOs that did not respond to USA TODAY’s requests.

The 11 male U.S. billionaires ahead of Ballmer on the Forbes list have their own hair, or at least appear to. Hair transplants and toupees are still relatively uncommon. Sales of male wigs peaked in the 1970s, and New Hair Institute founder Dr. William Rassman says CEOs are probably no more likely to have rugs or plugs than all men of their age group.

Only 1% of 1,138 professionals making $100,000 or more who responded to an unscientific survey by TheLadders job website said they were bald and trying to cover it up; and just one hair transplant is performed on men for every five breast augmentations performed on women, according to the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

But the success rate of transplants has improved, and they cost less than $7,000 on average, $20,000 on the high end, no more than a one-way ride aboard a corporate jet. Rassman says he has performed hair-transplant surgery on more than 30 billionaires. He declined to identify them.

A 6-foot-6 man creates a commanding presence when he enters a meeting — a feat more difficult to achieve for someone inches shorter, says George Jones, the “follicly challenged” 5-foot-9 CEO of bookstore chain Borders Group. He oversees 34,000 employees and $4 billion in annual revenue.

USA TODAY surveyed its panel of CEOs, retired CEOs and leading executives. There was a lower response rate than for surveys on other topics, but 95% of the 74 who responded said, if given a choice, they would rather be bald than short. More telling is that the 31 CEOs who identified themselves as bald or “headed in that direction” in the unscientific survey were unanimous in saying that being vertically challenged is more detrimental to an aspiring executive’s career.

USA TODAY asked TheLadders to follow up with a survey. The job-search site for high-income professionals got 1,138 responses. Half said they still had as much hair as they did when teens, while 15% said they were bald, and 35% said they were headed in that direction. Among all respondents to the unscientific survey, 67% said 2 inches more in height would be better for career success, vs. 33% who said a full head of hair.

Those results mirrored another unscientific survey taken at USA TODAY’s request by Vistage International, an organization of CEOs. Vistage asked its membership: “If appearances count, what aspect is most helpful in advancing a person’s career?” Of the 219 responding, 66% said taller is better; 34% chose hair.

“I think they are in denial,” Rassman says. He says bald men of power have confessed to him that even they discriminate against other bald men.

Baby-face bias

Academia has largely ignored the impact of balding on success, but Yale University psychology professor Leslie Zebrowitz has written extensively about how people with round faces and other traits that resemble babies are perceived to be more immature in the workplace and in the courtroom by juries and judges.

Zebrowitz says she knows of no research that has tried to determine whether bald men are more likely to have baby faces than men with hair. But if bald men do look more babyish, “Then that could account for their under-representation among CEOs,” she says.

Nicholas Rule, who wrote the paper “The Face of Success,” published in February’s issue of Psychological Science, says bald men may be more likely to be victims of the “baby-face bias” described by Zebrowitz. In his study, Rule had Tufts University students look at photos of CEOs and offer their gut reactions about their leadership capabilities. At USA TODAY’s request, Rule examined the data and found that the photos of bald CEOs were considered by the students to be warmer but less powerful than CEOs with hair.

“A great smile is much better” than hair or height, says Howard Behar, the 5-foot-10 and bald former president of Starbucks North America. “I mean, look at Mitt Romney. Lots of hair. Tall and good-looking. Sure didn’t help him. Compare him to the Dalai Lama: short, no hair and not exactly a looker. Just call me the Dalai Behar.”

Some say that worse than bald is trying to cover it up with a “comb-over” that uses remaining hair to cover the exposed scalp. “Like most CEOs, I’m cognizant of my appearance,” says Bob Kodner, CEO of The Crack Team franchiser that fixes leaking basement cracks. Five years ago, Kodner saw his cranium in an elevator mirror and thought someone had “thrown a piece of baloney on my head.” Ever since, he’s been shaving his head once a week. His advice: Don’t “prolong the inevitable.”

Craigslist founder and Chairman Craig Newmark is bald and “almost” 5-foot-7. Company CEO Jim Buckmaster is a foot taller and rich in hair.

“The general Net community does regard me as eye candy, a la George Costanza” from Seinfeld, Newmark says, but he adds that neither bald nor short is a good thing in corporate life. When pressed to make a choice, Newmark says, “I’d prefer to be a few inches taller.”

The Height of Success

December 5, 2008

By SCOTT STOSSEL
Published: November 5, 2006

SIZE MATTERS

How Height Affects the Health,

Happiness, and Success of Boys —

and the Men They Become.

By Stephen S. Hall.

388 pp. Houghton Mifflin. $26.

To the many indignities visited upon shorter than average males — lower incomes, disadvantage in mate selection, cut rates for their deposits at the local sperm bank, long odds of making the N.B.A. — has now been added this one: short people are stupider than tall people. That’s the finding of a recent study by two Princeton economists who conclude, painfully for those of us who are south of 5 feet 9 inches, that the reason taller people make more money is that they are smarter.

That finding was published too late to make it into Stephen Hall’s provocative book, but it’s in keeping with the litany of obstacles arrayed against short men that he documents in ”Size Matters.” Consider the very word ”stature.” Its primary definition refers to physical height, but it can also connote everything from presence and charisma to virtue and importance; on a metaphorical level, height and worthiness of esteem are linked in the human mind. ”Nobility of soul accompanies tallness of body,” wrote one 18th-century German physician, reflecting the conventional wisdom of the time. Repeated studies in the modern era have shown that people unconsciously ascribe positive qualities to the tall: in addition to being deemed more intelligent, tall people are automatically considered more likable, more dependable and more commanding. It seems that benefits accrue to the tall beginning almost from birth, and then keep accruing, leading to what is, generally speaking, a society where the tall lead and the short follow — an ”altocracy,” as Hall puts it. Only 3 of 43 American presidents — James Madison, Benjamin Harrison and Martin Van Buren — have been under 5 feet 7 inches, and it is well known that the taller of two presidential candidates usually wins the election.

The association of height with cultural desirability and even existential value has deep historical roots. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing in the first century A.D., associated height with both strength and moral virtue. Drawing on Tacitus and his successors, King Frederick William of Prussia became obsessed with recruiting — and breeding — an army of behemoths in the early 1700’s. His so-called Potsdam Giants regiment was led by a man reported to be over 7 feet tall, and included at least one mercenary well over 8 feet; none of the Giants were under 6 feet. (James Tanner, the dean of human growth studies, has observed that this was probably the tallest group of men assembled before the advent of professional basketball in America.) Other militaries emulated Frederick (taller soldiers had longer strides, could thrust their bayonets farther, and had an easier time reloading their long rifles) and Hall argues that it was at this point in history — when tall soldiers were more coveted than shorter ones — that the market (and moral) value of height first became institutionalized.

As a man of a mere 5 feet 5 and three-quarters inches himself, Hall is on something of a quest, seeking not just to understand the science and culture of stature but also to come to terms with what the cartoonist Garry Trudeau has called his ”inner shrimp” — that distinctive ”I’m smaller than the rest of the world so I hope I don’t get beaten up” outlook that is imprinted at an early age and never dispelled, no matter what our final adult heights. Mixing traditional science reporting with personal anecdote, Hall ranges widely across popular culture and the scientific literature to explore such issues as what the average height of a population can reveal about culture and society (Why are the Dutch so tall? And why are Americans becoming relatively shorter?), and how the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of human growth hormone as a ”treatment” for undersize children in 2003 changed the politics and science of height. Here’s an interesting philosophical question: If what matters psychologically is relative height, by treating short children with growth hormone, aren’t we creating a whole new class of undersize ”victims,” the untreated kids they surpass in height? Have we launched an arms race of avoiding shortness? If so, it’s not hard to understand why. As Hall puts it, height matters because ”it clearly has an impact on social perceptions, romantic interactions, workplace hierarchies and our self-perception long after we’ve stopped growing.”

Article continues here: NY Times

Does height equal power?

November 18, 2008

According to Del Jones of USA Today some CEO’s say yes it does.

Le Gourmet Gift Basket CEO Cynthia McKay wears 3-inch heels even though she’s 5-foot-9 in bare feet.

Why? For the same reason that 6-foot-3 Don Peebles, CEO of The Peebles Corporation, the nation’s largest African-American-owned real estate development company, puts his hand on the shoulder of shorter adversaries and crowds into their personal space when negotiating a key deal.

TELL US: What acts of power and dominance have you seen in your workplace?

It’s to gain a “subliminal sense of power,” Peebles says.

People of status often use height, or an inflated appearance of height, to look more powerful, says Lara Tiedens, an organizational behavior professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, who has written extensively about how executives acquire status. They look directly at others, use an open stance and vigorous gestures, speak loudly in a deep voice, interrupt at will, and lean in close or otherwise reduce the space of others and expand their own. What does all that audacity get them? Others see them as smarter, more competent and deserving of all their promotions, Tiedens says.

Tiedens says her findings and recommendations to become taller, louder and borderline rude have been called evil, but says she’s only the messenger calling attention to the age-old pecking order of humans, which is also common throughout the animal kingdom, from the arcing tail of the scorpion to the chest-beating chimp.

“It’s an evolution from the days of primates,” says Yaron Adler, CEO of IncrediMail, an Israeli company where executive meetings often turn into shouting matches that remind Adler of Britain’s Parliament.

Tiedens says women are often irritated by chest-beating behavior but should learn from it. So should minorities, the young, the shy and others who feel their ideas get short-changed on the merits, she says, because meeting rooms are dominated by white, male, chest-beating power brokers.

Peebles, for one, says he has a “radio” voice and employs it to command attention. McKay makes sure the ring tone on her phone is sophisticated, never “frilly.” She schedules meetings on her turf, where her office walls are covered in diplomas and accolades, and she drops into conversations that she is a lawyer as well as a CEO before pursuing important negotiations.

Many white, male CEOs say they are not pleased to be lumped together with rutting elk and other beasts gone wild. In interviews, they say that chest beating may have been a staple of corporate leadership in the past but that executives can no longer get away with aping Tarzan.

The ‘domination thing’

Retired CEOs Renny DiPentima of SRA International, James Copeland of Deloitte & Touche and Bill George of Medtronic, call such studies borderline drivel and say the last thing a busy CEO has time for is to plot to gain an upper hand.

“Today’s workers, vendors and customers are simply far too smart to fall for some kind of domination thing,” says Vern Raburn, CEO of jetmaker Eclipse Aviation.

Raburn worked under Bill Gates during Microsoft’s early days and says the world’s second-richest man is of slight build and incapable of resorting to chest beating, although Microsoft executives did play intellectual games of “who’s smartest, who can think fastest.”

Some successful women also say chest beating is rare and a waste of time. “Sounds like something a professor or consultant would think of,” says Andrea McGinty, founder of online dating site It’s Just Lunch and online retailer Baby Dagny.

Height, voice quality, stance … (are) not going to cut it without the substance,” says Linda Sawyer, CEO of Deutsch advertising agency. “Survival of the fittest has become survival of the brightest.”

But Karyl Innis, CEO of executive coaching firm The Innis Company, says corporate chest beating is widespread. She says CEOs who don’t spot it are like “fish who don’t see the water.”

“Is this a lot of bunk? Absolutely not,” says Jill Blashack Strahan, founder and CEO of Tastefully Simple, which sells food at in-house parties. “Arrogance and superficiality is nauseatingly prevalent. Chest beating is alive and well. It’s a jungle out there.”

If it’s a jungle, women are at a disadvantage because they have higher voices and usually stand and sit in a more constricted manner, Innis says. In the jungle, being considerate is a weakness. When someone walks into a crowded meeting room, even the most senior women have a tendency to make room at the table. That’s a mistake, she says: Those of power take up more than their fair share of space. Don’t relinquish it. Spread out, arms wide on the table.

Tiedens says studies of gender and influence indicate that women invite backlash when they try to be verbally dominant. But there seems to be greater acceptance when displays of female dominance are non-verbal. She says that wearing heels makes sense, although she is unaware of any high-heel research outside the realm of podiatry.

Innis, 5-foot-4½, remembers when she was director of staffing and recruiting at Motorola several years ago. Staffer Glenn Gienko was 6-foot-4. After one long day, Gienko did a double take when Innis took off her heels to relax. “He lifted out his arm, and the top of my head didn’t reach his palm. He said he had no idea I was so short. He thought I was bigger because I was his boss. I took up more space in his life. I’m very conscious about being bigger,” Innis says. “Shoulders square and back, head up.”

Maigread Eichten, the 5-foot-4 CEO of beverage company New Sun Nutrition, says she remembers a confrontation with a 6-foot, 200-pound-plus senior executive.

“He spoke loudly and in quite colorful language. I couldn’t get a word in between his four-letter words. Imagine his surprise when this small blonde marched up, stared him down, commanded his attention, spoke clearly and loudly and ended with a smile. He was sold and charmed,” Eichten says.

Even so, Eichten isn’t convinced that heels and other efforts of dominance are effective. She jokes that she guards her personal space only to protect her salad at lunch, and the only time others comment on her size is when she introduces them to her 14-year-old son.

Tiedens’ research has centered on women, and she says she was less qualified to say if the same tactics of dominance work for minority executives. Alfred Edmond, the 5-foot-7 editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise magazine, says they do work and advises young minorities not to disappear at meetings. His own promotions started coming after he took up body building as a hobby and went from 130 pounds to 175. He says he uses his baritone voice when he wants his way. Those with a deep voice are perceived to be larger, not only on the phone, but in person, Edmond says.

Height literally pays off

Several studies indicate that taller men are more likely to be successful and that the advantage begins early. A 2005 study in Finland found that baby boys who were taller than average by their first birthday earned more 50 years later. The last U.S. president who was shorter than the average man was 5-foot-7 William McKinley 106 years ago.

Corporate CEOs also tend to be taller, and those who aren’t taller have a way of appearing so. Retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch, at 5-foot-7, makes searing eye contact and will pull his chair around to sit close in one-on-one conversations. Harold Burson, chairman and architect of the largest public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, says he is 5-foot-6, “probably a little less now that I’m 86.” He says his theory is that short CEOs rise from within the company. Executive search firms tend to produce the 6-foot outsiders, he says.

There may be some evolution in the jungle. Some CEOs say they recognize the importance of chest beating but have learned to use it in moderation. When Adler oversees contentious meetings, he tries to remain calm and centered. Likewise, Edmond says he resorts to dominant behavior “thoughtfully and sparingly, like corporal punishment in child rearing.”

Peebles says he used to assume that the loudest, most aggressive male at the meeting was “the guy in charge,” until he learned that’s not usually the case. “If you have authority, you ought to use it less,” he says.

Tiedens says it makes sense that wise CEOs are evolving to turn chest beating over to wannabe lieutenants, because research indicates that leaders who are dominant wind up with submissive employees, while those who step back empower those around them.

But dominant personalities, at least among those on the path to power, will long be with us, Tiedens says, even though chest beaters are perceived as less nice, likable and warm. Those gunning for leadership positions sacrifice popularity, Tiedens says. Edmond has advised his children to be both sure and right, but that it’s most important to be sure.

“If you are absolutely correct, but seem unsure, you’ll hardly be able to influence anyone, much less dominate them,” Edmond says. At least once a week, he says, his wife calls him a stubborn dictator.

Edmond and other executives interviewed said they recognized that chest beating can be taken to an extreme and they worried that not only is there a fine line between confidence and dominance, there’s also a fine line between dominance and schoolyard bully.

Leaders by definition are confident, and many can successfully negotiate dominance. But some cross over to become like hotel titan Leona Helmsley, nicknamed the queen of mean. Eleven states are in various stages of passing legislation that would give the victims of workplace bullying the right to sue for damages, according to The National Law Journal.

But if bullying is bad for business, the opposite could be, too. “If someone can’t look me in the eye when they make a statement, or are passive, I downplay their credibility,” says Steve Hafner, CEO of travel website Kayak.com.

Says Strahan: “When we avert our eyes, or cower, or speak in meek, whispery tones, we don’t instill feelings of trust and safety.”

McKay is never accused of being meek or in a cower. She wears heels even though she finds it ridiculous that 3 inches could add to anyone’s credibility.

“It is a lot of bunk,” she says. “But it works.”