Should Microsoft hire Ashton Kutcher as its next chief executive?
Not as crazy as it sounds, if you believe the results of a new economic study that says cute CEOs provide a "beauty dividend" for shareholders. And besides, Kutcher, a tech investor, has some experience since he played Steve Jobs in the 2013 biopic of the Apple (AAPL) co-founder.
According to economists at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, an attractive leader is not just another pretty face but gets better short-term results for the company, measured by stock performance as well as deal-making.
It's another reminder that we are never far from those depressing days in high school when the tall, the thin and the beautiful seemed to have it all. But it's also emblematic of our times.
In a world of sound bites and tweets, there is intense competition to rise above the noise. Allure helps. Add to that, a CEO's face is almost like a logo, shorthand for the firm's personality and values.
That doesn't mean CEOs should start their day by saying, "Mirror mirror on the wall," or turn to plastic surgery.
Long term, say corporate recruiters, a CEO's substance is what matters, no matter how dashing he or she is on CNBC.
"No modern CEO search should consider a viable candidate's appearance," said Joseph Daniel McCool, principal of The McCool Group, a search committee advisory firm. "You can be packaged up as nicely as possible, but you might be the exactly wrong person. It's what is in someone's heart and in their mind that will have the biggest bearing on shareholder value."
Titled "Beauty is Wealth: CEO Appearance and Shareholder Value," the study expanded on previous findings that attractive CEOs are paid more than their homelier counterparts. The new study asked if the beautiful are worth the extra money.
With a computer evaluating the attractiveness of more than 600 CEOs, the study found that the gorgeous gave a firm's stock a bump on the day they started on the job. That makes sense, kind of, given what we already know about the short-term irrationality of the stock market. Shareholders apparently see the stock market like a reality TV show, voting by bidding up shares on days when the company's winsome CEO is on TV.
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo's (YHOO) chief executive, ranked high in attractiveness, for example, and she and Yahoo shares have done well since she joined the company. But that ignores other, far more significant factors like her credentials as one of the top executives at Google (GOOG) before she made the jump.
Intriguingly, the study said that the comely "receive more surpluses for their firms from M&A transactions, a finding consistent with the hypothesis that more attractive CEOs' improve shareholder value through superior negotiating prowess." Hearing that, it sure sounds like attractive CEOs might be good for a short-term boost, but I still suspect that novelty may wear off and lose its power over time.
That's why I don't think Microsoft should add beauty to its CEO search criteria. Better to stick with whether the candidate has the right vision to reshape the software giant in the post-PC era and come up with a strong mobile strategy.
Get these things right, and the future Microsoft CEO will look great no matter what.
Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at twitter.com/michellequinn.
Attractive CEOs, by the numbers
677 -- The number of CEOs the authors studied.
7.29 -- The average score in the CEO Facial Attractiveness Index. In a 1-to-10 scale with 10 being the most attractive, the CEOs ranged from 4.01 to 8.80.
$873,000 -- How much a one point increase in attractiveness can bring a CEO in terms of total wages.
0.43% -- The increase in a firm's stock value around the time of a merger acquisition when it is done by an attractive CEO compared to a CEO who is deemed 10 percent less attractive.
Source: "Beauty is Wealth: CEO Appearance and Shareholder Value"