More than half of people can’t name a single CEO

Never heard of them.
Never heard of them.
Image: Reuters/Jason Lee
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Pop quiz: Name the first CEO that comes to mind.

If you answered “umm…” or “what’s a CEO?,” don’t fret—you are far from alone. In fact, a new survey of the general public in 10 large countries found that almost 50% of people polled say they couldn’t name a corporate chief executive. And when pressed to prove it, others were caught fibbing—in the end, fully 60% of people aged 18 or older cannot actually name a CEO, past or present.

This is just one aspect of an extensive survey, conducted by public relations firm Edelman, that should serve as ”deeply disturbing news” for the world’s captains of industry, as Edelman’s own CEO, Richard Edelman, puts it. The survey was published on the eve of the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, where a sizable share of the global elite—including 1,500 corporate execs and 400 government officials—will meet to talk shop this week.

The headline result of the survey, now in its 16th year, highlights a “yawning trust gap” between the general public and elites. Indeed, the gap in trust in institutions—including business, media, and government—has never been wider between approving elites and a skeptical public, Edelman says.

It certainly doesn’t help to dispel notions of a distant, unaccountable corporate elite if so few can personally name any of their number. And it’s probably also galling for many making their way to Davos that the first CEO that comes to mind for the largest share of people hasn’t been a boss for very long at all: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 31-year-old founder.