Are there language markers of hubris in CEO letters to shareholders?

Russell Craig, Joel Amernic

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This paper explores whether DICTION text analysis software reveals distinctive language markers of a verbal tone of hubris in annual letters to shareholders signed by CEOs of major companies. We analyze 193 letters to shareholders, comprising about 368,000 words, focusing initially on 23 letters signed by CEOs who are alleged to be hubristic: Browne (BP), Goodwin (Royal Bank of Scotland), and Murdoch (News). Their language use is statistically significantly high in terms of the DICTION master variable, REALISM. Based on further analysis, we contend that language high in REALISM is not a distinctive marker of hubris but is likely to be a genre effect that is common in CEO letters to shareholders. We draw attention to the restricted capacity of DICTION to capture subtlety of language in CEO letters to shareholders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-986
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number4
Early online date1 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Chief executive officer
  • Hubris
  • Letters
  • Realism


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