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Some CEOs are real beauties.

There were no evening gowns, swimsuits, or artistic talents on display, but a corporate beauty contest staged by curious researchers nevertheless revealed strong ties between appearance and success in the business world. By pairing photographs of chief executive officers of large and small companies with those of nonexecutives with similar facial features, hairstyles, and clothing, finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey, and Manju Purl of Duke University, Durham, N.C., found that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, but less likely to be classified as likable.


The trio found that CEOs who appear competent earn more money than less competent-looking ones, even though appearance is not associated with measurable differences in company profitability. "Other researchers have found links between beauty and workers' pay, and demonstrated that politicians benefit from good looks at election time," Graham acknowledges. "We wanted to see whether appearance also plays a role at the corporate executive level."

The researchers staged a variety of experiments to ask participants to assess photographs of CEOs end nonexecutives. In one, participants were asked to rank the people in each pair of photos according to their attractiveness, competence, trustworthiness, and likability. The actual CEOs were rated as more competent 55% of the time, while their small-firm counterparts were judged as looking more trustworthy, likable, and attractive.

For the purposes of the experiments, only photos of white male CEOs were used. "It would be fascinating to study the role appearance may play in the careers of women and minorities," notes Puri. "However, because there are fewer female and minority CEOs, including them in our set of photos would have increased the odds of participants recognizing a CEO, which could have inadvertently influenced their rating of the person's characteristics."

The team found that CEOs rated competent just by their appearance tended to have higher income. Despite the relationship between appearance and CEO salary, the researchers found no evidence that an individual's appearance is related to company profitability.

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Title Annotation:Business & Finance; chief executive officers
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
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