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.
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."
"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.
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."
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?