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Global CEO Index

Global CEO Index


Global CEO Index

Characteristics of the World’s Top CEOs

Often the chief executive officer (CEO) of a company is the person in charge of the day-to-day running of a company, as the founder. But in other cases, they are an experienced executive hired to run a company on behalf of the shareholders. For example, Microsoft founder Bill Gates handed over the CEO position to Steve Ballmer in 2000. 

CEOs often dictate their company’s overall direction. As such, their decisions can hugely impact the success or failure of the companies who employ them. 

Is there a factor that makes someone CEO material? By studying the common characteristics of CEOs of the world’s 75 biggest companies, we were able to identify which traits make a CEO.

The Top 75 Companies

The 75 biggest companies in the world are in various industries – from international banks to large technology and retail companies. Over half of the companies are from either the US or China (31 and 14, respectively). Germany has the third-highest number of companies on the list (6). 

Top 75 CEOs

While there are a multitude of different types of businesses and nations represented among the top 75 companies in the world, there are some distinct similarities between their CEOs. Although all are individual people with their own lives, value sets, and skills, there are many similarities among those on the list. We will explore the data related to each of these aspects of a CEO to see which traits are the most important and common. 

Top CEOs’ Names

There are almost 30 million known first names shared among the global population, this means around 243 people per name on average, though we know some are far more common than others.

Of the 75 CEOs on the list, 15 shared first names, with the other 60 being unique. The most common by far was David – the three Davids are David Cordani (CEO of Cigna), David I. McKay (CEO of RBC), and David M. Solomon (CEO of Goldman Sachs). The other six names were shared by a pair of CEOs only. 

Top CEOs’ Gender

This is the category with the biggest swing toward one shared trait, as a monumental 96% of the CEOs analysed are male. The three female CEOs are Jane Fraser (CEO of Citigroup), Karen S. Lynch (CEO of CVS Health), and Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors).

Top CEOs’ Nationalities 

The majority of the top 75 CEOs are American, which is not considering that 31 of the top 75 companies are based in the USA. However, it is surprising that only 20 of the CEOs are American, meaning that 11 of the US companies have non-native CEOs. In China, it is a different story, as all Chinese companies have a Chinese CEO. Many of them are state-backed corporations, which makes this unsurprising. 

Top CEOs’ Ages

The average age of all the CEOs studied is 59 years old, showing that for the most part, it takes a lot of time and experience to be running one of the biggest companies in the world. There are exceptions to the rule, Mark Zuckerberg founded and became CEO of social media giant Facebook when he was a teenage student – 18 years later and he is still the youngest CEO on the list at 37.

At the other end of the age scale, Berkshire Hathaway’s head honcho Warren Buffett is into his 90s. Buffett became CEO and majority shareholder in 1970, meaning he had been in the job 14 years before Zuckerberg was even born. 

Top CEOs’ Education Level

It appears that being well educated is a prerequisite for becoming a CEO at one of the world’s biggest companies. Of the 58 CEOs we could find education history for, only two of them did not achieve a degree, and both of these did attend university. 28 of the CEOs had a standard degree, a further 22 went on to achieve a master’s in their various fields of study, and eight were awarded a doctorate for their years of study.

It is worth noting that the two odd ones out without a degree are Larry Ellison (CEO of Oracle), and Mark Zuckerberg (CEO of Facebook). These men are the eighth and 15th richest people on the planet respectively, and they have a combined estimated worth of $173.3 billion. 

Top CEOs’ Family Life

When it comes to family, there is a clear pattern developing, as all but three of the members with data are married. Another two, David Solomon and Larry Ellison have previously been married but are now divorced. The only unmarried member of the top CEOs is Tim Cook of Apple, although it must be noted that the relationship status of 41 of the 75 is unknown. 

When it comes to children almost all of the CEOs have children, only three did not (although data was only available for 33 of the 72). Interestingly not a single CEO has an only child, and the average number of children is 2.37. Frenchman Bernard Arnault (CEO of LVMH) has the most with 75, three CEOs have four children, ten have three, and eighteen had a pair of offspring. 


A list of the 75 biggest companies in the world was sourced from Forbes

We discovered the CEOs for each of these companies by searching on Google and using the various sources it showed. 

Gender, nationality, age, education, marital status, and the number of children were mainly sourced from Wikipedia pages for each CEO. 

When data was not available for certain categories they were omitted. 

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Team Lensa
Team Lensa is a group of HR specialists, career counselors, and tech enthusiasts dedicated to helping job seekers navigate the employment landscape through actionable tips and insights.

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