Standing Out from the Crowd: How Names Shape Corporate Strategy


dr. Eugen Schochenmaier

Mondonomo, Chief Scientist

Dec. 7, 2023, 10:44 a.m.


Searching for innovative leaders? You can identify them by their distinctive names. The study “Being extraordinary: How CEOS' uncommon names explain strategic distinctiveness” (published in Strategic Management Journal 42 in 2020) is talking about how the name of a company's CEO (chief executive officer) can be connected to the unique strategies the company chooses. The researchers from the W. P. Carey School of Business (Arizona, USA) were able to demonstrate that CEOs with uncommon names tend to see themselves as different from their peers, leading them to pursue unique strategies that deviate from industry norms.

The given work also mentions that this connection between an uncommon CEO name and unique strategies is stronger when the CEO is confident, powerful, and when the business environment is favorable. The scholars used 19 years of data on 1,172 public firms including CEO names and financial information to support their ideas.

Here are some examples of CEOs with unusual names who might feel different from others in their position and, as a result, made choices for the company that have been different from what was normal in the industry:


Reed Hastings (Netflix)

Reed is a relatively uncommon first name, ranking 708th in popularity for male babies born in the United States in 2022. Hastings co-founded Netflix in 1997 and has led the company to revolutionize the way we consume entertainment. Netflix was one of the first companies to offer a subscription-based streaming service, and it has consistently disrupted the traditional television and movie industries.


Mary Barra (General Motors)

Mary is a relatively common first name, but Barra is a very uncommon last name. In fact, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are only about 1,500 people in the United States with the last name Barra. Barra became the CEO of General Motors in 2014, and she has since transformed the company into a leader in electric vehicles and self-driving cars. She has also overseen the company's expansion into new markets, such as China.


Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX)

Elon is a very uncommon first name, and Musk is a relatively uncommon last name. In fact, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are only about 1,000 people in the United States with the last name Musk. Musk is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and led some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Tesla, SpaceX, and PayPal. He is known for his bold vision and his willingness to take risks.


Marc Benioff (Salesforce)

Benioff is a very uncommon last name: according to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are only about 100 people in the United States with this last name. Benioff is the founder and CEO of Salesforce, a cloud-based software company that has revolutionized the way businesses sell and market their products and services. He is known for his focus on customer success and his commitment to social responsibility.

These are just a few examples of CEOs with uncommon names who have all demonstrated a willingness to challenge the status quo and to pursue bold new ideas. As a result, they have led their companies to become some of the most successful and innovative in the world.