The bald truth about CEOs

•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.

Baby-face bias

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.

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