Who Is Australia's Most Narcissistic CEO?

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A business academic researching executive personality traits by looking at speech patterns says Australia’s most narcissistic CEO is a man who works for one of the largest financial institutions in the country.

Narcissism can be a positive in business; in fact, research shows that it can be “useful, even necessary” and that leaders who exhibit the trait tend to do best in buoyant market conditions.

Macquarie Graduate School of Management dean Alex Frino used natural language technology to analyse transcripts of investor question and answer sessions with ASX 100 CEOs and divided the number of occurences of personal pronouns – “I” and “me” – by the uses of “us” and “we”.

He acknowledged that the methodology did not account for context, for example, “I’ll pass the question to”, “I think”, “I did” or “I decided”.

“The sector with the most narcissists is the finance sector,” Frino told Business Insider.

“That’s not surprising as the finance sector is fairly dynamic and high risk, where charisma and one’s ability to influence can make a difference to outcomes.”

Finance sector companies in the ASX 100 include the big four banks, ASX (the stock exchange operator), Bank of Queensland, Challenger, Charter Hall Office REIT, AMP, Macquarie Group, Perpetual, and insurers IAG, QBE and Suncorp.

The four female CEOs leading Australia’s largest 100 companies, including Westpac’s Gail Kelly, ranked in the bottom half on MGSM’s list.

“Narcissists tend to be charismatic and inspirational, which in a buoyant market can help people lift performance,” Frino said.

Meanwhile, less narcissistic CEOs tended to excel in a tough market, as in the US since the GFC and Australia in the past two years, he said.

MGSM is still crunching the numbers to measure levels of narcissism against the performance of Australia’s top 100 companies, but its research on US CEOs has linked less narcissistic CEOs with higher company profits in recent years.

The 10 CEOs in whom the trait was least detectable according to MGSM include Ansell’s Magnus Nicolin, Premier Investments’ Mark McInnes, Fortescue Metals’ Neville Power, Tabcorp’s David Robert and Henry Attenborough, and David Jones’ Paul Zahra.

The narcissism study is the first in an MGSM research series that will eventually measure personality traits like obsessiveness and Freud’s characterisation of eros – loving and dependent – against company performance.

Findings will inform MGSM course content. Frino said it could also help CEOs who identify as narcissists to adapt their behaviour to market conditions.

“I’m in the business of creating the next wave of elite businesspeople,” he said.

“This is an innovative top-down approach to identifying what personality traits typify very successful executives, so we can work that knowledge into the way we teach and mentor our students.”

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