Media release
March 26, 2019

Isentia Leadership Index reveals two distinct CEO styles

26th March 2019

Isentia’s second edition of its Leadership Index has revealed two distinct styles of leadership in Australian business – conservatives and disruptors. The report revealed the top 25 CEOs and top five disruptive leaders in Australia, identifying their differing characteristics and the roles they play in modern business.

As well as updating its analysis of CEOs in Australia and New Zealand’s top 150 companies, Isentia explored the characteristics of Australian leadership through the lens of disruption. The top 150 companies were derived from a combined list of the ASX50, the NZX50, the 2018 IBIS World Top 500 companies published by The Australian Financial Review and Deloitte’s Top 200 data in New Zealand.

Isentia’s Chief Insights Officer, Khali Sakkas, says observations around the behaviour and portrayal of disruptive leaders are key in understanding modern businesses.

“Often in business we focus on measuring performance solely with financial metrics. However, this approach fails to recognise the impact of leadership trends and values,” Sakkas says. “We included a study of disruptive figures because in the current business climate, every single industry is seeing disruption, whether from technology developments or heightened customer expectations.

“Assessing disruptive personalities adds another layer of insight into the leadership of Australian business. No single individual featured in both the top 25 CEOs and the top five disruptive leaders. What we’re noticing is two distinct styles of leadership.

“Traditional CEOs are typically required to be risk averse, answering to shareholders and board members. On the other hand, the new generation of disruptors are usually undertaking a potential risk, yet their creativity can have a huge payoff.”

Disruptive leaders

To identify disruptive leaders, Isentia used its extensive media database to search for varying forms of the word “disrupt” in combination with leaders’ names. The most mentioned disruptors were global business leaders with celebrity status including Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Positive characteristics of this group included “ambitious” and “charismatic” while “erratic” and “impulsive” were listed as negative attributes. A significant 46 per cent of coverage regarding these individuals focused on their personal life, wealth and behaviour.

Coverage of Australian disruptors was often focused on business being disrupted, rather than the individual responsible for the change. Personalities were positioned as decisive and innovative leaders, with minimal negative attributes. The number one disruptive leader was Telstra CEO Andy Penn, who has led the telecommunications giant through a pivotal transformative period from mid-2018. With the rollout of the NBN, Telstra has required strong leadership to navigate the substantial changes to its business.

Penn exhibits the three most common traits of a disruptive leader: the ability to provide guidance in the face of circumstances outside of the business’ control, a focus on keeping technology front-of-mind in decision-making, and an aptitude for agile, flexible and forward-thinking ideas.

The top 25 CEOS

Isentia analysed more than 50,000 media items aired or published between 1 October and 31 December 2018 to provide an understanding of Australia and New Zealand’s top 150 companies. As in the first Leadership Index released in November, the CEO profiles and media trends of these businesses were assessed to reveal the top 25 CEOs. The three main factors that were evaluated were public perception, employee approval and financial performance.

Of the 150 companies assessed, the top 50 alone were mentioned in more than 700,000 media items. However, on average, the top CEOs were only present in nine per cent of their company’s coverage. BHP CEO, Andrew Mackenzie, retained his position as the number one leader in the final quarter of 2018.

Looking forward

The Isentia Leadership Index is designed to provide a benchmark to compare leadership profiles over time, highlighting key trends and figures as they shift each year.

“Broadening our report to include a study of disruption has really enriched our understanding of Australian leadership. It will be interesting to see which style of leadership becomes more prevalent in the coming years, as we continue to undertake our Leadership Index. Suggestions for other research topics are always welcome,” Sakkas says.


For more information, please contact:

Sophie Willis
Howorth Communications
sophie@howorth.com.au 0458 111 948


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