Patrick Sweeney, CEO of computer firm Odin Technologies and a champion rower, says he never had his older brother's strength, which taught him to "compete against the likes of IBM or (Hewlett-Packard)."
Similarly, Ben Golub, CEO of tech company Plaxo, says being the youngest of two boys toughened him up, but said he could not elaborate — too big a risk "my big brother would give me a noogie."
Harland Stonecipher, CEO of Pre-Paid Legal Services ppd is the youngest, with four brothers and a sister. His parents were sharecroppers, and none of his siblings completed high school. They were too poor to have running water "unless I ran and got it," he says. But he was the youngest by nine years, which meant family finances had improved slightly as older siblings moved away, enough so that there was a window of opportunity for Stonecipher where none existed before.
Middle children have war stories, too. "My dad was an expert practitioner of conditional love, so there was a significant amount of competition between girls," says Karen Scott, president of Chelsea & Scott, a seller of educational toys, and the second of three daughters.
Then there are those such as FedEx fdx CEO Fred Smith, who calls himself a "hybrid mongrel" because his mother was a widow who had two previous sons before she married his father. Smith is an only child from the second marriage, but has two older half brothers.
Similar stories globally
The domination of older children in business appears to have no gender or international boundaries. Andrea McGinty, founder of dot-com success stories Baby Dagny and It's Just Lunch, is the eldest of six, as is Leonard Liu, CEO of Augmentum, a 1,000-employee software developer based in Shanghai with offices in Beijing and San Francisco.
McGinty says she was old enough to remember her father working his way up in a department store chain and how his hard work led to a transition for the family to a better lifestyle.
Unlike her siblings, she often accompanied her father to work, where she stocked shelves at age 5 and was doing weather analysis reports on store traffic at age 12.
McGinty says she learned that hard work has its rewards and that her experience being a "bit bossy" with siblings is a valuable asset to this day.
Vijay Eswaran was first-born in Malaysia to a family of Indian origin. He is CEO of Hong Kong-based QI Group, a 2,000-employee conglomerate with 1 million customers in 190 countries. Most people would say his kid brother, Vicknesh, also is a success. He runs an 85-employee subsidiary phone company in London. But Vijay says he and his brother are very different.
Vijay says he is more driven. "It's not about intelligence. It's the drive," says Vijay, also the oldest among 25 cousins. He says he still ruffles the hair of his cousins when he greets them, even though most are by now parents themselves.
Says Vijay: "Worldwide, the eldest tend to be people who break new ground, take on challenges. We have greater responsibility because we were impromptu babysitters. We have to set an example. Everyone is looking up to you.
"It puts weight on you a little early," he says. "You grow up a little faster, get a little wiser, whereas the younger ones are more pampered. We take the first bruises, the first falls."
Tell us about your family. Do your siblings or children give you any theories on the effects of birth order?