News & Opinion | June 24, 2019 10:01 am

How Shareholders Prepare for the (Possible) Deaths of Adrenaline-Loving CEOs

CEOs are risk-takers. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them are also into extreme sports.

Risk-taking CEOs
CEOs are worrying their boards by jumping out of planes. (Getty)
Getty Images

The very things that may make someone a great CEO — they take chances, aren’t afraid of a little risk, trust their gut — may be the same traits that propel someone out of an airplane at 10,000 feet or up the pernicious incline of a 15,000-foot peak. Unsurprisingly, this tends to worry shareholders.

“Boards have to consider whether the same thing that made that person a successful CEO, for instance, also led them to engage in highly risky hobbies, David Larcker, a professor who leads Stanford Graduate School’s corporate governance research initiative, told The Wall Street Journal.

While some trustees accept the death-defying pursuits of their execs — like that time Walmart Chairman Greg Penner climbed Mount Everest — others are making sure succession plans are in place in the event that one of these adrenaline junkies meets their maker sooner than expected.

That said, the proof that such plans are necessary isn’t exactly convincing: a study found that only six CEOs died unexpectedly in the past 20 months. The most notable, according to the Journal, was the death of CSX Chief Hunter Harrison, who suffered “unexpected severe complications from a recent illness.” The company’s value plummeted $4 billion after his death.

In 2015, SurveyMonkey CEO David Goldberg collapsed and died while running on a treadmill and Micron Technology chief Steve Appleton died in 2012 after he crashed the experimental plane he was piloting. And yet, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings CEO Andy Wirth still skydives, veteran auto executive Bob Lutz pilots jet fighters and Alphabet’s CEO Larry Page kite boards.

There are other, less extreme factors to consider, though. Fortune 500 executives have a higher rate of heart disease than those in other professions, according to the Journal, and about 75 percent of them live a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Likely related: another 40 percent of them are considered obese.

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