From USA Today
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By Del Jones, USA TODAY
The debate over whether CEOs are born or made remains unresolved, but there is one thing they overwhelmingly have in common.
As children, they were paddled, belted, switched or swatted.
Child psychologists wince at such a finding. They warn that spanking slows mental development and hinders achievement. They say the last thing parents need in the back of their minds is a suggestion or justification that the rod is the road to vision, ruthless drive and other leadership traits common to CEOs.
But USA TODAY interviewed about 20 CEOs over three months and, while none said they were abused, neither were any spared. Typical is General Motors (GM) CEO Rick Wagoner, 53. He got an occasional “whack in the fanny,” while growing up in Richmond, Va., but said he had it coming and that it probably had no influence on his life as a high achiever.
“I probably deserved it more,” Wagoner says, and though he spanked his two sons less often, it was “probably not enough,” he jokes. “I’m not sure they deserved it less than I did.”
The Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t require CEOs to disclose childhood paddlings, so USA TODAY ambushed them with the question during interviews on other topics.
A handful declined to respond. “I don’t remember,” said Sheldon Adelson, 73, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands (LVS) casino and hotel operation. The son of poor immigrants grew richer by $1 million an hour over the past two years to become worth $20.5 billion and the third-richest man in America.
But most CEOs answered the question, albeit through forced smiles. “Very, very rarely,” said Cisco Systems (CSCO) CEO John Chambers, 56, the son of two doctors, who visited USA TODAY in July for what he knew would be a wide-ranging interview. He had no idea how wide ranging. “I’m from Charleston, West Virginia. My dad was firmer than my mom,” he said.
Some CEOs had more heavy-handed parents. Dave Haffner, CEO of Fortune 500 manufacturer Leggett & Platt (LEG), says he was familiarized with his father’s belt about six times a year. That includes the time Haffner, then 8 or 9, kicked down the screen door after his brother locked him in the basement.
“I received the belt when I deserved it,” said Haffner, 54, who spoke with obvious love in his voice for his father, Carl, a mechanic and truck driver who expected every tool to be in its place. After the interview, Haffner volunteered to pose for a photo beside the grave of his father, who died in 1989 at 72.
Is there some connection between corporal punishment and corporate leadership? Most CEOs believe spankings played little or no role in their success but usually could cite important lessons learned. “I’m disciplined, detailed and organized,” Haffner says.
Mark Cuban, 48, says he was spanked one or two times but does not remember why. He went on to become worth $2.3 billion, rich enough to buy “toys” such as the Dallas Mavericks. “I got the ‘this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you’ speech from my dad. I don’t think spankings influenced my life one way or the other,” Cuban says.