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What’s In a Name?

October 8, 2021 by Twan van de Kerkhof

If your name is Dweezil, you will make bolder decisions than when you go by the name of Frank. The more uncommon a CEO’s name is, the more the organization’s strategy will deviate from industry norms. This is the conclusion from research by Professor David Zhu of Arizona State University, published in Harvard Business Review July – August 2021.

Professor Zhu says that studies in psychology show that people with uncommon names internalize the perception of being different from other kids. That sticks with them into adulthood, and even in their careers. They deviate in their actions from other people. The more unusual the name, the more different the strategy. Elon apparently is more daring than Jeff.

Another influencing factor is the confidence level of the CEO, with less confident leaders conforming more to industry norms. Even more important (and less surprising) is the power of the CEO: those that are CEO and chairman and have been in office for a long time are more likely to push an unusual strategy through.

Zhu says: “If a board wants a new leader to shake things up, appointing someone with an uncommon name will probably help”.