Academic claims he can predict when a CEO will quit

Academic claims he can predict when a CEO will quit

Being able to predict when a CEO is going to quit would have a huge impact on business strategy and future-proofing.

That said, it is largely impossible to know if, or when, they are planning to move away - isn't it? Not quite...

Dr Qingan Huang, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of East London’s School of Business and Law, now claims he can predict when CEOs are going to walk – or going to be sacked.

Dr Huang believes that two indicators show whether a CEO is close to the door: a lack of future-focus in public relations and writing; or a surfeit of negative emotion.

Huang claims he has a 73% success rate when it comes to knowing whether CEOs will walk.

His method is to look at the language in CEO’s shareholder letters. From this, he was able to create a link between 268 CEO exits and their previous shareholder letters.

Speaking to the Financial Times (FT), Huang said: “Emotion takes an important role in CEO's decision-making. Even taking into account irony, sarcasm and unusual sentence structure in texts, LIWC [Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count] is a reliable method of gauging the emotional expression and cognition of the writers.”

Huang has worked with software that has a negative emotion dictionary compromising of 345 words, including: “hate”, “worthless”, “enemy”, “fear”, “unfair”, “anger” and “sadness”.

The business boffin cites the 2003 exit of ICI CEO Brendan O’Neill as an example of the link between CEO’s emotional state and an impending exit. 

O’Neill ended the last letter to his shareholders with: “When the tide turns, I know we will be ready. This is something Dr Huang calls “optimism without strategy”. The CEO left shortly afterwards.

Longstanding tech correspondent Jonathan Margolis remains sceptical. Writing in the FT, he concludes: “While current thinking by Dr Huang and other researchers holds that raw emotions are a superb data point, the evidence suggests that they are not always the best basis for action.”

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