Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change
Net Net: Promoting innovation and managing change

Proof! CEOs hurt companies by golfing too much

Golf a CEO slayer?
Golf a CEO slayer?

Companies whose CEOs spend too much time on the golf course often end up in the rough.

So goes the conclusion of a study from researchers at the University of Tennessee and University of Alabama that could send shivers through C-suites across the U.S.

The team looked at four years' worth of data from the United States Golf Association, which logs member rounds and scores as part of its official handicapping system for hard-core links lovers. Using the records from 363 chief executives in the S&P 1500, the study drew some conclusions sure to scare more than a few of them off the course.

For one, it found that executives who use their time to lower their handicaps also often lower their firms' returns. (Tweet This) The study also concluded, not surprisingly, that these same executives who play more often than their peers are more likely to lose their jobs.

"Top traders want to know everything they can about a company before they get involved in a name—down to where its C-level executives dined the night before a big day of investor meetings, for example. You never know how an overdone steak or disagreeable conversation will affect their mood after all, and inadvertently the stock price," New York brokerage Convergex said in a note that unearthed the study from August 2014.

Surfing the greens with golf's new cart
Surfing the greens with golf's new cart

"Likewise, analysts also need unconventional sources of information to remain competitive, and that means just analyzing financial statements and business models won't cut it. Often how a CEO spends his or her time away from the office is just as indicative of the firm's investment potential," the note said.

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The research team of Lee Biggerstaff and Andy Puckett at Tennessee and David C. Cicero at Alabama said the results of golf time versus performance were telling.

"We find that the highest levels of leisure are indeed associated with lower firm operating performance," the trio wrote.

CEOs in the top quartile of the survey played a minimum of 22 rounds a year, while the top decile (or most frequent of 10 groups) played at least 37 rounds a year.

In companies where the CEOs played more than 22 rounds of golf a year the return on assets was about 1.1 percentage points lower than firms where the top executives played less frequently. That's significant because the average ROA for the sample was about 5.3 percent, so the performance was equal to about 20 percent lower.

"Some CEOs in the database play in excess of 100 rounds in a year!" the study said. "While some golf rounds may clearly serve a valid business purpose, it is unlikely that the amount of golf played by the most frequent golfers is necessary for a CEO to support her firm."

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Engaging in that much golf proved hazardous for employment health: The study found that for every 1 percent the CEOs increased their golf time, they were 0.83 percent more likely to get fired.

Those golfers in the top decile spent the equivalent of 5.5 weeks on the course and not in the office. Then there was one CEO who played a staggering 146 rounds.

Such behaviors, the study concluded, "are consistent with a strong leisure component and appear inconsistent with value-maximizing behavior."