There were no evening gowns, swimsuits, or artistic talents on display, but a corporate beauty contest staged by curious researchers nevertheless revealed strong ties between appearance and success in the business world. By pairing photographs of chief executive officers of large and small companies with those of nonexecutives with similar facial features, hairstyles, and clothing, finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey, and Manju Purl of Duke University, Durham, N.C., found that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, but less likely to be classified as likable.
The trio found that CEOs who appear competent earn more money than less competent-looking ones, even though appearance is not associated with measurable differences in company profitability. "Other researchers have found links between beauty and workers' pay, and demonstrated that politicians benefit from good looks at election time," Graham acknowledges. "We wanted to see whether appearance also plays a role at the corporate executive level."
The researchers staged a variety of experiments to ask participants to assess photographs of CEOs end nonexecutives. In one, participants were asked to rank the...