Luxury automobiles often are large attention grabbers. That is particularly true in regards to what the CEO pushes. Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton famously drove a pickup. Warren Buffett, worth $42 billion, drove a silver 2001 Lincoln Town Car with Nebraska plates ‘THRIFTY’ till he auctioned it for charity on eBay last year for $73,200. When Alan Mulally moved from Boeing to become CEO of Ford Motors, last year he caught flak for calling his Lexus the best car in the world only when Ford was introducing him as its new leader.
The way the boss gets to work may seem a relatively benign thing. But people pay close attention to what their CEO drives, and what accessories they have in and around their cars. Just 10% of nearly 3,000 people asked did not know what their main boss drives. An automobile can really say a lot about the individual in the corner office. What CEOs drive provides a look into their private engine blocks. Some drive hybrids to be green and efficient. Others prefer older cars to show they could milk the most from available resources. Then, there are people who want fast and expensive cars because they are at the very best and will not settle for less. There are also those CEOs that love the bells and whistles on their cars, including 4wd accessories or even specialized leather car seats.
BMW was the hottest make driven by the C-level executives on the poll. Yet BMWs accounted for just 13 percent of the total, followed by Ford at 7 percent and Lexus at 5 percent. Another USA TODAY survey of 90 CEOs saw 13 percent drive a BMW, 12 percent a Mercedes, and 10 percent a Toyota. If automobiles represent character, the number suggests that CEOs are as diverse as Galápagos Islands species. There are those like Pace Micro Technology’s, who drives a $100,000 Porsche because he is obsessed with functionality, speed, and layout.
CEOs are not unique in having cars that show their personalities. For many people, cars represent their values, or people they expect to portray. However, it’s especially true for people who can afford any vehicle they truly desire. In the individual USA TODAY survey of 90 CEOs, the vehicles ranged from a $170,000 Bentley Continental Flying Spur with a webasto sunroof, into a ’66 Lincoln Town car with a tjm bullbar. While 43% drive model years 2006 or newer, 11% drive vehicles created in the 1990s, or sooner. USA TODAY calculated resale values: 8 percent of the CEOs drive cars worth more than $100,000, while 6 percent drive vehicles worth less than $10,000.
Pricey automobiles, clothes, and houses owned by CEOs inspire employees, says Herb Vest, founder and CEO of dating site True.com. He drives a Mercedes convertible. Dean Cubley is CEO of ERF Wireless, a provider of encrypted wireless networks that is yet to turn a profit; he drives a Mercedes 500SL.
Three years ago Profit magazine called Debbie McGrath among Canada’s most successful female entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the CEO of HR.com, which offers human resources advice, drives a ’93 Oldsmobile Silhouette, a minivan that got poor reviews, failed to sell well, and has been stopped. McGrath says it does not embarrass her but may embarrass her children.
There were only five women among the 90 who reacted to USA TODAY’s poll, too few to draw conclusions. But signs are that the entire CEO car thing is largely about boys and their toys. None of the girls reacted like Phil Libin, CEO of Sunnyvale, Calif., technology company EverNote, who recalls riding with his dad in a ’77 Malibu Classic with a dash that appeared to “stretch for miles” with sterile holes where the cool gadgets should have been. He describes his father as a car minimalist who’s still somewhat angry that cars no longer include manual windows. Libin, on the other hand, says he grew up to be incapable of passing up accessories, and he shops for automobiles primarily dependent on the amount of buttons, knobs and blinking lights on the dashboard.
One CEO who spent more than $100,000; Raul Fernandez, CEO of ObjectVideo and co-owner of NBA and NFL teams in Washington, D.C, drives a $111,000 ’07 Maserati Quattroporte. Although, he might trade it in because he has three young children in safety seats. Real estate developer Donahue Peebles primarily pushes an ’06 Mercedes-Benz CL550 probably worth slightly less than $100,000 brand new, but he also owns an ’06 McLaren SLR, an ’04 Ferrari 360 Spider, a second Mercedes, an ’06 Chrysler 300 SRT8 and an ’06 Jeep Commander; supercharged, of course.
As a CEO, what car you drive reflects greatly on your role and position within the company. Whether you are a green efficient driver, or more a sporty person driving that Porsche – no matter what you think, others will always have something to say about you, and that is just something you need to get used to.