What You Can Tell From Your Boss's Signature

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Ever wonder what your boss's signature might say about him or her? A new study suggests that chief executives with outsized John Hancocks are more likely to be narcissists. Big signatures may also mean the CEOs are less capable and poor performing, though that doesn't mean they take home smaller paychecks.

In fact, the study of 605 U.S. CEOs, released by the University of North Carolina business school, found that those with large signatures make the most money -- regardless of how well or poorly they do their jobs. (Shown above is President Barack Obama's signature, which wasn't included in the study.)

In focusing on the size of the signature, ABC News reports, the study is believed to be the first of its kind, according to its authors, who defined narcissism as being conceited and having little regard for others. Narcissists, generally, have heightened opinions of their own capabilities and performance, and tend to dismiss the abilities and advice of others.

The hundreds of CEO signatures were mainly gathered from financial documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission as of July 2011, professor Sean Wang, one of the study's three authors, told ABC News. The signatures were then run through a software program to aid in comparison. "We standardized the measure by dividing the area by the number of letters in the CEO's signature," Wang said.

The researchers, he said, relied on findings from psychological literature that "a bigger signature means a bigger ego, on average, though other factors may also determine signature size."

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Other experts expressed skepticism. Narcissism experts James Westerman and Jacqueline Bergman of Appalachian State University told the network that other factors can determine signature size, including, high self-esteem and an extroverted personality.

Wang said that he and his colleagues aren't claiming a direct correlation between big signatures and poorly run companies, but rather, on average, it appears to be true. One noteworthy example, first cited by Fast Company, compared Carly Fiorina, the (now former) CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., and Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Fiorina has a larger signature than Dell, but HP underperformed its rival by getting lower return on its investments.

Which CEO has the largest signature? Wang said it was Timothy Koogle, who ran Yahoo Inc. from 1995 to 2001 and was the Internet company's chairman from 1999 to 2003. Koogle's tenure mirrored that of the dot-com bubble and its burst. But even allowing for that "relatively strange time," Wang said, Koogle very much fits the model.

From 1997 to 2001, Wang said, Yahoo paid no dividends, made "extremely high investments," and provided Koogle some of the highest compensation in Silicon Valley.





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