A significant high percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs go by nicknames. This is readily apparent, when you rattle off the most prominent ones like Jeff Immelt, Steve Balmer, Tim Cook, Jamie Dimon, Meg Whitman, etc. I believe that short names are potentially correlated with leadership success for the simple reason that they engender close association and camaraderie. And that especially in an age of social media, short twitter handles and listed names on Facebook, these effects can be amplified at digital scale.
A short name or nickname is a sign of intimacy, trust, and friendship. These can often be critical attributes in the building of a successful organization. Whereas a long and formal name creates a barrier, a short one can break down walls.
Up until 10 years ago, I went by Jonathan. For decades, people continually tried to call me Jon, and I gently corrected them. Then upon graduating business school, I questioned the constant, “I go by Jonathan.” It was akin, in my mind, to telling people who wanted to befriend me or be close to me that they in fact cold not be. I decided that I valued closeness more than I valued my formal name, and switched to Jon. Never looked back. Ironically, my family had always called me Jon.
I have a friend and business partner named Michael Bassik, who is the CEO of WPP agency Proof. For years, I have been slipping to his frustration and calling him Mike. I finally explained to him, that this slip is probably just a result of my feeling a sense of friendship with him.
I then pointed out to Michael, half jokingly, he was probably limiting his career growth. Look at all the successful people, look at all the nicknames and short names: Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Welch, Fred Wilson, Larry Elison, Larry Page. It’s almost difficult to think of the business leaders without a short or nick names.
Michael sent me a list of Fortune 500 CEOs. With limited time, and potentially questionable accuracy, I tried to put in as many nicknames as I could think of. Please leave ones you know or corrections in the comments.
My method for doing this was very ad hoc. I took the list and Googled all the CEO names in the Fortune 50. If a result came up in a news source or wikipedia page with nickname I counted it.
Also if the person had a first name with under 5 characters like “John,” I classified it “Nickname-like First Name.” I didn’t count five-character names like David in this bucket, because he could have easily chosen to adopt the nickname “Dave” but did not.
The results are pretty interesting. Of the Fortune 50, 14 CEOs or 28% go by Nicknames and 32% have Nickname-like First Names. Combined, 60% of Fortune 50 CEOs go by a Nickname or have a Nickname-like First Name. Please ping me if you are interested in working through the rest of the list. Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Full Doc here: http://bit.ly/LFh1FN
I spend a lot of time thinking about Social Media and how to get our client’s ideas and content to spread. This seemed like a unique look at nomenclature in the real world. Short relatable names, in all things, probably fare better than formal and complex.
I’m shocked by how almost every business mentor or leader I work with, goes by a nickname or short names. And if the old chestnut about people working up the corporate ladder on the golf course ever had or has any truth, certainly a relatable “short” or “nickname” could do the same.
Also while this list could suffer from a misidentification of cause, it’s seems worthy of hypothesis that short names are a contributing factor in business success.