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An analysis of the last 12 months’ worth of CEO interviews in the Sunday Times by PR firm Cognito unveils trends in the diversity of chief executives’ cultural and other interests.  The interviews are largely of UK CEOs and chairman in public and private firms, but include some international business figures with significant interests in the UK.

Favourite Book: Roughly half named a non-fiction book.  Choices were highly fragmented, with only six authors getting two mentions: Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Robert Harris, Amin Maalouf, Yuval Hariri and Lord Slim of Burma “for his Defeat into Victory memoirs”. Strikingly there were few classics, no religious books, and only a small amount of modern literary fiction (no Roth, Amis, McEwan, Morrison, Barnes, Franzen).  The non-British CEOs often had more adventurous choices, such as Solal by Albert Cohen.  A couple of respondents claimed not to read any books.

Favourite Films: Only Rocky and Gladiator got two mentions (Gladiator has appeared quite regularly in previous years) with many mainstream choices.  Only two of the BFI’s “Best 20 Films of All Time” make an appearance – Citizen Kane and Apocalypse Now.   Just three chose a non-English language film.

Favourite Music: answers were widely dispersed but do reflect the age cohort of the CEOs (one honest answer was “anything 1980s”). Those receiving several mentions: Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Prince and The The.   There was some jazz, but little classical.

Car: 28% own an electric car or hybrid (though many have several cars).  Top marques are Land Rover (10), Porsche (7), BMW (7), Mercedes Benz (6) and Tesla (4).

Watch: Only about half those interviewed revealed a watch, but there was a clear front runner, with Apple Watch on 8.  This was followed by Rolex on 3, and Tag Heuer and IWC on 2 each.  It is possible that some interviewees did not want to admit to expensive watches.

University: Between first and master degrees, five of the CEOs went to Oxford, five to Cambridge, and four to Harvard.  In general, the range of higher education demonstrated the diversity of the group, with 24 attending universities outside the UK.

Women CEOs: Only 9 of the 54 interviewees were women (a figure the Sunday Times has no doubt been strongly seeking to improve for a while).   The sample size was too small to be insightful, but the literary choices were interesting, including Harper Lee, Amin Malouf, Solzhenitsyn, Edmund de Waal and Khaled Hosseini.

Andrew Marshall of Cognito commented: “This holiday-timed analysis should not be taken too seriously, but it is an interesting exercise given the centrality of CEOs in the UK public sphere.  We have no grounds for thinking that CEOs overall did not respond honestly.  We suspect that in some cases, they will have been conscious of wanting to give safe choices that did not appear pretentious to staff and customers.  Some will also have been aware of not wanting to be caught out (as politicians have been) by saying something that they could not back up.

“About 40% of those interviewed are not British, and many of their cultural choices were more highbrow than the British respondents.  Unfortunately the interviews did not tell us how many are chartered accountants, though perhaps that is an area for further research”.

“For those in the cultural and creative industries engaging with CEOs as potential corporate donors, the lesson may be not to assume a common cultural hinterland.”

“Probably the most striking responses were those emphasising that their car was electric or hybrid, and we suspect this will rise quickly in future years”.

Andrew Marshall is Cognito's vice chairman.