Journal of Business and Psychology

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 205–216 | Cite as

Distinguishing CEOs from Top Level Management: A Profile Analysis of Individual Differences, Career Paths and Demographics

  • Tom BoothEmail author
  • Aja Louise Murray
  • Mathilde Overduin
  • Madelynn Matthews
  • Adrian Furnham
Original Paper



Identifying the characteristics of chief executive officers (CEOs) has been a longstanding goal in leadership and individual differences research. The purpose of this exploratory study was to consider which individual difference and career path variables differentiate CEOs from other senior managers.


Participants (N = 1152) were UK-based senior managers (n = 1040) and CEOs (n = 112) who completed a self-report measure of the Five Factor Model of personality (NEO-PI-R), a measure of cognitive ability (graduate and management aptitude test), and answered a number of additional questions on their career paths as part of development centres. Analyses comprised inter-individual mean difference tests, intra-individual external profile analysis and logistic regression.


Results indicated that personality facets of impulsiveness, vulnerability, activity and dutifulness showed the largest mean differences. No significant effects were found for the criterion profile pattern, but significant effects were found for profile level. Of the additional predictors, career path variables were the strongest predictors of CEO status.


The combination of significant effects across domains of individual differences and career path variables emphasizes the importance of a multivariate approach in the study of leadership, top management teams and career progression.


The current study combines personality, cognitive ability, demographic and career path variables, and applies intra-individual methodologies to explore the characteristics of the very top level of organisational hierarchy.


Personality Five factor model Profile analysis CEO 



The authors would like to thank Prof. Mark Davison (Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota) for comments on an early draft of this manuscript, and John Crump from Kaisen Consulting for access to the data.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tom Booth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Aja Louise Murray
    • 2
  • Mathilde Overduin
    • 3
  • Madelynn Matthews
    • 4
  • Adrian Furnham
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Violence Research CentreUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryUSA

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