Visionary Leadership and Flying

Monday, March 13th, 2017

There seems to be a connections between visionary leadership and flying:

Thrill-seeking chief executives who pilot planes in their spare time are more likely to inspire original thinking at their companies, says Jingjing Zhang, an accounting professor at McGill University and co-author of a new study that surveyed more than 1,200 men and women in the top job between 1993 and 2003.


“Pilot CEOs are very different from other people, willing to take more risks in seeking the experience and sensations related to flying and innovation,” Ms. Zhang says, adding that many of the adventurous business leaders surveyed also raced cars or engaged in daring outdoor sports such as skydiving.

Using certificate records from the Federal Aviation Administration, the researchers found companies with a pilot in the top job spent more on research and development on average, and produced nearly twice as many patents each year as those with a nonpilot CEO. Moreover, those patents tended to be more diverse and interdisciplinary, and had a higher impact, inspiring further innovation.

The desire to learn how to fly small aircraft says a lot about someone’s willingness to seek out new and exciting opportunities that entail risk. It is a hobby shared by Larry Ellison, co-founder of software giant Oracle Corp.; the late Wal-Mart Stores Inc. boss, Sam Walton, and Virgin Group’s Richard Branson.


  1. James James says:

    I don’t think the explanation for the correlation is risk. I fly a light aircraft for the thrill, but that thrill certainly does not come from risky behavior. We do all we can to minimise risk. Obviously flying is more risky than not flying, though.

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