Harbert Magazine Online The alumni magazine of Auburn University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business

Report: CEOs with high facial symmetry face harsh discipline

Matt Hersel, left, and Brian Connelly

When companies engage in corporate misconduct, CEOs with higher facial symmetry are more likely to be fired compared to those with lower facial symmetry. In other words, better-looking CEOs who commit fraud might want to start cleaning out their desks.



The paper, “Beautiful is Better: CEO Attractiveness in Securities Fraud,” prepared by Harbert College of Business management doctoral student Matt Hersel, McWane Family Professor in Management Brian Connelly, and business analytics professor Kang Bok Lee, examines the relationship between higher degrees of facial symmetry (variation in configuration of one side of a person’s face with another) and corporate conduct. Facial symmetry is often related to increased attractiveness and better DNA.

The authors will present the paper at the elite Strategic Management Society (SMS) International Conference October 1-3 in Denver, Colorado.

“Acceptance of the paper to the SMS conference is a great reward for the work that we have put into crafting this story,” Hersel said. “Hopefully, through discussions with other scholars at the conference, we can further refine our ideas and prepare this paper for journal publication. It’s one of those things where we worked a lot and spent a lot of time on – and it’s great to see it pay off. It definitely means a lot as I start my career.”

kang researchConnelly said the team used the Internet to gather photos of hundreds of CEOs.

“We then ran those pictures through a software program that analyzes their facial features, and most importantly the symmetry of their features,” he added.

“Most research looks at what organizations do. But what about who organizations are? Facial symmetry software is an observable indicator of unobservable characteristics. We evaluated the data and when people do engage in fraud, if there is a degree of higher facial symmetry, then the consequences are often more severe for them. We hold attractive people to more accountability.”

Hersel, who credited Harbert College’s Center for Ethical Organizational Cultures for funding the research, graduated from Auburn High School in 2007. He earned his undergraduate in finance and MBA from Auburn. Once he completes his doctorate, the newly-engaged scholar wants to pursue a career in academia.

“Matt is sort of the (former Auburn running back) Cameron Artis-Payne of doctoral students,” Connelly said. “He is getting first downs pretty much every time he touches the ball, and now we are starting to see that effort turning into points on the board. As young as he is, it will be fun to watch his career take shape in the years ahead.

Hersel said he is “extremely lucky to have a faculty member like Dr. Connelly guiding me through the research process.”

“He has been tremendously developmental throughout the course of turning this research idea into a working academic paper,” Hersel said. “Collaborating with Dr. Connelly on this project has provided me with knowledge and skills that I will utilize throughout the rest of my career.”

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