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Journal cover: Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Online from: 1988

Subject Area: Accounting and Finance

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Executive hubris: the case of a bank CEO

Document Information:
Title:Executive hubris: the case of a bank CEO
Author(s):Niamh M. Brennan, (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland), John P. Conroy, (University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)
Citation:Niamh M. Brennan, John P. Conroy, (2013) "Executive hubris: the case of a bank CEO", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 26 Iss: 2, pp.172 - 195
Keywords:Annual reports, Chief executives, Discretionary narrative disclosures, Hubris, Narcissism, Social psychology
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/09513571311303701 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Acknowledgements:This paper is based on John Conroy's Master of Accounting dissertation, completed at Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business, University College Dublin.

Purpose – Can personality traits of chief executive officers (CEOs) be detected at a distance? Following newspaper speculation that the banking crisis of 2008 was partly caused by CEO hubris, this paper seeks to analyse the CEO letters to shareholders of a single bank over ten years for evidence of CEO personality traits, including narcissism (a contributor to hubris), hubris, overconfidence and CEO-attribution. Following predictions that hubris increases the longer individuals occupy positions of power, the research aims to examine whether hubristic characteristics intensify over time.

Design/methodology/approach – This paper takes concepts of hubris from the clinical psychology literature and applies them to discourses in CEO letters to shareholders in annual reports. The research comprises a longitudinal study of the discretionary narrative disclosures in the CEO letters to shareholders in eight annual reports, benchmarked against disclosures in the CEO letters to shareholders of the previous and subsequent CEOs of the same organisation.

Findings – The results point to evidence of narcissism and hubris in the personality of the bank CEO. Over half the sentences analysed were found to contain narcissistic-speak. In 45 per cent of narcissistic-speak sentences, there were three of more symptoms of hubris – what Owen and Davison describe as extreme hubristic behaviour. In relation to CEO overconfidence, only seven sentences (2 per cent) contained bad news. More than half of the good news was attributed to the CEO and all the bad news was attributed externally. The research thus finds evidence of hubris in the CEO letters to shareholders, which became more pronounced the longer the CEO served.

Research limitations/implications – The analysis of CEO discourse is highly subjective, and difficult to replicate.

Originality/value – The primary contribution of this research is the adaptation of the 14 clinical symptoms of hubris from clinical psychology to the analysis of narratives in CEO letters to shareholders in annual reports to reveal signs of CEO hubris.

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