What your CEO drives says a lot

Of the nearly 3,000 who responded to TheLadders' survey, 116 identified themselves as C-level executives. Of those 116, 76% said their car "says something about me," the same percentage as non-executive respondents. Seven percent said that they have intentionally tried to hide their car from co-workers, vs. 9% of all respondents, while 5% of executives have timed their departure at the end of the day so that more people get a glimpse of their car, the same percentage as all respondents. Two percent of C-level execs said they have pretended that someone else's car was their own, more than the 1% of all respondents.

In the separate USA TODAY survey of 90 CEOs, the vehicles ranged from a $170,000 Bentley Continental Flying Spur to a '66 Lincoln Town Car. While 43% drive model years 2006 or newer, 11% drive vehicles made in the 1990s — or earlier. USA TODAY calculated resale values: 8% of the CEOs drive cars worth more than $100,000, while 6% drive vehicles worth less than $10,000.

Nice cars as motivators

Southwest Airlines luvCEO Gary Kelly, for instance, last year bought a used '05 Porsche 911 Carrera. "You have to drive; it might as well be fun," he says. Contrast that with Jimmy Wales, founder of giant online encyclopedia Wikipedia, who drives an '04 Hyundai Accent, worth about $7,000. He says his cellphone defines him more than his car. Among other examples:

•At SmithBucklin, which says it's the world's largest association management company, with 700 employees, CEO Henry Givray has a $70,000 Audi A8 for what he calls the understated elegance.

•Craig Hunt, CEO of KeysCaribbean Resorts, lives on his own private island, where he drives a '97 Land Rover Defender.

•Insurer Aflac afl said last month that it will sponsor NASCAR's Carl Edwards for eight races, yet Aflac CEO Dan Amos says his '07 Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicle signals that he is predictable, conservative and eager to fit in with something nice, but not too nice.

•Kris Singh, founder and president of energy company Holtec, most often drives an '03 Lexus 430 sedan, but also owns an '07 Mercedes-Benz AMG, which he says was "foisted" on him by his son. With a sticker price of $210,000, he finds it "unduly ostentatious."

But ostentation can have its place. Those who object to CEOs "prancing about in a gas-guzzling foreign car," might ask themselves one question, says Ralph Bianculli, CEO of supply distributor Paradigm Group, who drives an '07 BMW: Were you in need of a surgeon, would you want one who arrives in an '07 Mercedes, or one who arrives in a '95 Chevy Malibu?

Pricey cars, clothes and homes owned by CEOs motivate workers, says Herb Vest, founder and CEO of dating site True.com. He drives a Mercedes convertible. Dean Cubley is CEO of ERF Wireless, a provider of encrypted wireless networks that's yet to turn a profit. He drives a Mercedes 500SL. "A nice car reflects on the success of a public company. I am proud of my car and like to show it off."

"My employees like to see me driving a nice car," says Larry Gaynor, CEO of Nailco Group, a beauty products company, who drives a white $100,000 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. "It gives them a feeling the company is doing well."

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