Michael Bailey Deputy editor

Michael has been a business journalist for 12 years. He has extensive experience editing magazines covering funds management, commercial property and the travel industry. In 2011 he won a Citi Excellence in Financial Journalism award for a BRW cover story on economic indicators.

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Retailers Paul Zahra and Mark McInnes among Australia’s ‘least narcissistic’ CEOs. Which sector has the biggest egos?

Published 11 September 2013 11:44, Updated 12 September 2013 07:32

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Retailers Paul Zahra and Mark McInnes among Australia’s ‘least narcissistic’ CEOs. Which sector has the biggest egos?

Just a humble shopkeep, I am: David Jones chief executive Paul Zahra defers to UnionPay chair Su Ning at an instore event in May. Kate Geraghty

They might operate at the more glamorous end of the economy but David Jones chief Paul Zahra, and his predecessor turned Premier Investments boss Mark McInnes, are among the 10 least narcissistic CEOs of ASX-listed large companies, according to an analysis of speech patterns by the Macquarie Graduate School Of Management.

The MGSM measured the personal pronoun use of 100 CEOs, among Australia’s 140 largest listed companies, in the Q&A sessions of analyst briefings used to discuss their company’s earnings during the reporting season just past.

The narcissism score for each CEO was the ratio of first person singular pronouns to total first person pronouns used in their speech.

To avoid embarrassment and lawsuits, the MGSM has not named Australia’s most narcissistic CEOs, but have named the least egotistical bosses. In ascending order they are:

91 Westfield Retail Trust (WRT) Domenic Enio Panaccio

92 Orica Limited (ORI) Ian Kingsley Smith

93 Treasury Wine Estates Limited (TWE) David C. M. Dearie

94 David Jones (DJS) Paul A. Zahra

95 Tabcorp Holdings (TAH) David Robert Henry Attenborough

96 Fortescue Metals Group Limited (FMG) Neville Power

97 Premier Investments Limited (PMV) Mark McInnes

98 Duet Group (DUE) David Bartholomew

99 Ansell Limited (ANN) Magnus R. Nicolin

100 Amcor Limited (AMC) John Kenneth Norman MacKenzie

It may not surprise that one of the sectors to feature strongest among the most narcissistic CEOs was financial services, including the banks. Materials was the other home of big egos.

The heads of five of the top 20 companies were among the biggest 20 self-aggrandisers, while none featured in the bottom 20. There are only four female CEOs included in the study, and their rankings are between 59 and 85.

MGSM’s research team, led by the dean, Professor Alex Frino, is developing a new natural language technology to identify narcissism, as well as other personality traits, by analysing CEOs’ verbal communications.

The team will use the data to examine whether narcissistic CEOs build better performing management structures, if they are able to extract higher pay from their remuneration committees, generate greater shareholder returns and are better communicators.

The study ultimately aims to quantify leadership qualities as predictors of company performance in the market, as well as informing strategies to better educate the company leaders of tomorrow.

“Many leaders dominating the workforce today possess narcissistic leadership traits, and in this era of constant change and innovation, it seems natural that charismatic risk-takers would take charge,” Frino says.

“Is narcissism, generally viewed as a personality defect, actually a good thing? Does Australia in fact need more narcissistic CEOs?”

Professor Frino said the study would directly inform MGSM curricula.

“I’m in the business of creating the next wave of elite businesspeople,” he says. “This is an innovative top-down approach to identifying what personality traits typify successful executives, so we can work that knowledge into the way we teach and mentor our students.”

Narcissism is only one of many personality traits that are to be examined by the team, who are also developing a natural language technology platform to extract personality traits through the impromptu communications given by CEOs.

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