Journal Article


John P. Conroy
Niamh Brennan



longitudinal study social psychology discretionary narrative disclosures chief executives hubris annual reports design methodology narcissism

Executive Hubris: The Case of a Bank CEO (2013)

Abstract Purpose: Can personality traits of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) bedetected at-a-distance? Following newspaper speculation that the banking crisisof 2008 was partly caused by CEO hubris, this paper analyses the CEO letters toshareholders of a single bank over ten years for evidence of CEO personalitytraits, including: (i) narcissism (a contributor to hubris), (ii) hubris, (iii)overconfidence and (iv) CEO-attribution. Following predictions that hubrisincreases the longer individuals occupy positions of power, the researchexamines whether hubristic characteristics intensify over time.  Design/methodology/approach:This paper takes concepts of hubris from the clinicalpsychology literature and applies them to discourses in CEO letters to shareholders inannual reports. The research comprises a longitudinal study of thediscretionary narrative disclosures in the CEO letters to shareholders ineight annual reports, benchmarked against disclosures in the CEO letters to shareholders ofthe previous and subsequent CEOs of the same organisation. Findings: Results pointto evidence of narcissism and hubris in the personality of the Bank CEO. Over half the sentences analysed were found to containnarcissistic-speak. In 45% of narcissistic-speak sentences, there were three ofmore symptoms of hubris ¿ what Owen and Davison (2009) describe as extremehubristic behavior. In relation to CEO overconfidence, only seven (2%) sentencescontained bad news. More than half of the good news was attributed to the CEOand all the bad news was attributed externally. The research thusfinds evidence of hubris in the CEO lettersto shareholders, which became more pronounced the longer the CEO served.  Research limitations/implications: The analysis of CEO discourse is highlysubjective, and difficult to replicate. Originality/value:The primary contribution of this research is the adaptationof the 14 clinical symptoms of hubris from clinical psychology to the analysisof narratives in CEO letters toshareholders in annual reports to reveal signs of CEO hubris.  Keywords Discretionary narrative disclosures, Annual reports, Narcissism, Hubris, CEOs, Social psychology
Collections Ireland -> University College Dublin -> Business Research Collection
Ireland -> University College Dublin -> School of Business
Ireland -> University College Dublin -> College of Business

Full list of authors on original publication

John P. Conroy, Niamh Brennan

Experts in our system

Niamh Brennan
University College Dublin
Total Publications: 106