First-born kids become CEO material

Scientists have found that first-born children are smarter than their brothers and sisters. It appears they are more likely to succeed in business, too.

Be it drive or aptitude or a slightly higher IQ, the advantage crosses gender and international lines. Microsoft msft CEO Steve Balmer is an eldest child, as is Avon's avp Andrea Jung. Charles Schwab, schw the oldest of two, overcame dyslexia to become one of the world's richest. Joe Moglia, CEO of TD Ameritrade, amtd was first-born of five and says he received regular corporal punishment as a child.

When he was 8, Bill George says his father tried to make up for his own perceived failures by telling his eldest son he could become CEO of Coca-Cola, coke Procter & Gamble pgor IBM. ibm "A heavy load for a young boy," says George, who worked summers at all three and later rose to be CEO of Medtronic, from where he retired.

A large study done by Norwegian scientists and published in July in the journal Science found that oldest children on average had a slightly higher IQ than their siblings.

The study did not look at eventual business achievement, but the gap of just 2.3 points was enough to sometimes mean the difference in better colleges and job opportunities, and the study suggested that first-born children were more likely to strive.

No scientific study of such size has examined the birth order of CEOs, but USA TODAY gci asked Vistage, the world's largest CEO organization, to survey its membership. It conducts surveys regularly on a variety of business and economic issues, but the birth order question struck an unprecedented nerve.

Vistage received 1,582 responses, vs. 200 to 300 for previous surveys, says spokesman Tony Vignieri. Of those, 43% were born first, 23% born last and 33% landed somewhere in the middle.

USA TODAY followed up with a smaller survey of CEOs on its own panel. It received responses from 155, of which 59% were first born, 18% were the youngest and 23% fell in the middle.

Why do first-born children so dominate the boardrooms? CEOs themselves say they got hit in the face early in life with a stew of factors. Those included the undivided attention, at least for a time, from their parents.

They say they felt the pressure of greater expectations. They were forced to become self-sufficient because they had to look after younger siblings while not having an older sibling looking out for them.

Ben Dattner, a psychology professor at New York University who has studied birth order, says it makes sense that first-born children rise to the top.

They are often more extroverted, confident, assertive, authoritarian, dominant, inflexible, conformist, politically conservative, task-oriented, conscientious, disciplined, defensive about errors, and fearful of losing position and rank.

The days may have passed when the family farm was handed down to the oldest son, but the advantage persists in parental time and resources, Dattner says. He knows of one Harvard classroom where first-born freshmen are asked to stand on the first day of school. Only about 20% remain seated, he says.

Craig Hunt, CEO of vacation home developer Keys Caribbean Resorts and a middle child, says his older brother automatically inherited the helm of his father's plastic business. "It didn't matter which child was the smarter. It only took me 30 years to earn my CEO job elsewhere," he says.

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