Next Corporate Leader

Predicting the effects of a CEO’s tenure can be a tricky business. Boards of directors, investors, and analysts hunt for clues in the backgrounds, personalities, and characteristics of CEOs that might indicate which strategies they’re most likely to employ and in which direction they’ll take the company. How much experience do they have in the industry? Which school did they attend? Do they seem confident or cautious, aloof or personable?

But there’s another question that directors and shareholders might want to ask at some point during the proverbial conference call or job interview: “Do you fly your own plane?”

As offbeat as it might sound, the particular hobby of piloting a small aircraft appears to act as a proxy for a CEO’s willingness to both take on risks and seek out new experiences, according to a new study. This particular combination of qualities seems to give CEOs the intrinsic motivation to lead firms that experience more innovation success and novel breakthroughs. Indeed, the authors found that this effect grows stronger over the first three years of a pilot CEO’s tenure, suggesting that the CEO has a definite impact on the innovation strategy and culture of a company.