CEOs who begin their careers during recessions ... end up heading smaller firms [and] receiving lower compensation.
In Shaped by Booms and Busts: How the Economy Impacts CEO Careers and Management Style (NBER Working Paper No. 17590), authors Antoinette Schoar and Luo Zuo find that economic conditions at the start of a manager's working life have lasting effects on his or her career path. Those CEOs who begin their careers during recessions take less time to become CEOs, but end up heading smaller firms, receiving lower compensation, and being more likely to stay with a given firm, rather than to move across firms and industries. Managers who start in recessions also have more conservative management styles once they become CEOs: they spend less on capital expenditures and R and D and show more concern about cost effectiveness.
Early economic conditions also affect the career path of a manager along the way to becoming CEO, according to the authors. The number and speed of outside offers, and industry switches during the career, increase when the manager starts his or her career in better economic conditions.
The authors also find that accepting a first job at a firm that is one of the ten firms that are most likely to be a source of CEOs is associated with favorable outcomes for a manager. Those CEOS end up heading larger companies and receiving higher compensation. However, it may be that people with certain skills self-select into jobs early on, and that the firms that are sources of CEOs attract particularly talented workers in the first place. In either case, the effects of a good start on the career path are quite persistent: they are related to the managers' career choices even twenty years later.