Exploring the dark side of integrity: impact of CEO integrity on firms’ innovativeness, risk-taking and proactiveness


Marketing and Professional Sales

Document Type


Publication Date



Purpose: This study aims to examine the effect of chief executive officer (CEO) integrity on organizations’ strategic orientation. The authors propose that CEOs who have high degrees of integrity tend to negatively influence each of the three core dimensions of entrepreneurial orientation (EO) – innovativeness, proactiveness and risk-taking. They also argue that this impact of CEO integrity is likely to be stronger for overconfident CEOs and the CEOs with high power. Furthermore, this negative relationship is expected to attenuate when the firm has high customer orientation and when the CEO is compensated with high equity-pay ratio. Design/methodology/approach: Seemingly unrelated regression analysis was conducted on panel of 741 firm-year observations of 213 firms across 2014–2017. CEO integrity and each of the three dimensions of EO were measured using content analysis of CEOs’ letters to shareholders. CEO power was measured using CEO stock ownership and CEO duality. CEO overconfidence was measured by using options-based measure. Customer orientation was measured by using content analyses on annual reports. CEO equity-pay based ratio was measured as sum of value of stock and option awards divided by CEO’s total compensation. This study considered alternative measures and performed treatments for potential endogeneity, sample selection bias and outliers. Findings: The research findings conclude that organizations with CEOs who have high integrity tend to have lower levels of all sub-dimensions of EO – innovativeness, proactiveness and risk-taking. Further, the results indicate that the negative effect that CEO integrity has, affects one of its dimensions – proactiveness, such that the relation is strengthened when the CEO has high power and is highly overconfident. This negative effect weakens when the CEO is compensated with high equity-pay ratio. The results also indicate that the negative effect of integrity and innovativeness and risk-taking weakens when the firm has high customer orientation. Research limitations/implications: The research contributes to upper echelon theory literature by adding to the discussion of how business executives’ psychological traits map onto firm behavior. This research also finds common ground between literature on innovation and upper echelons, contributing to awareness about the drivers of firms’ EO. Practical implications: This research addresses the question of firm relation to EO by highlighting that firms’ EO is also shaped by the psychological traits of their CEOs and the interaction of these traits with CEOs’ cognitive biases. Thus, board members of firms led by CEOs with high integrity can limit CEO’s risk-averse behavior by focusing on their training and by creating incentive systems. It is also advantageous for CEOs to understand that integrity is a double-edged sword, thus leveraging the strengths of their integrity, while simultaneously using tools such as training to diminish its negative aspects. Originality/value: This paper fulfils a twofold identified need to: study the antecedents of each of the three dimensions of EO, not limited to corporate governance; and unearth the counterproductive behaviors associated with bright traits that make up their dark side

Journal Title

European Journal of Marketing

Journal ISSN






First Page


Last Page


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)