Is there anything common among great chief executives? The hope is yes, but prevailing logic says no.
For the past three years, I have been studying top chief executives from around the world, including the Fortune and FTSE 100 leaders, along with a few honourable mentions. I've been poring through their backgrounds, upbringing, education, hobbies and experiences to try to discover the secret of what makes a chief executive.
My conclusion: each chief executive is very different from the others. There is no one hometown, university, astrological sign or experience that appears to be the secret to a great chief executive.
Yet, Two points were often noted by the chief executives in my study: hard work and obsession.
Hard work should be a given, but it is worth noting for the benefit of the "work smart, not hard" generation that great chief executives work tireless hours with punishing schedules. They arrive early and work until late. This is not to say they do not believe in working smart, but the goal of their smart work is not to get by with less. It is to make time for more work.
Surprisingly, the other commonality they seem to have is an obsession. This obsession manifests itself in their being competitive, collectors of valuable objects and obsessed with high quality.
For the competitive types, it is not just about business competition. They are competitiveness in their extracurricular activities as well. Perhaps it is the adrenaline rush they are after, because their choices for competitive adventures are not "run-of-the-mill" activities.
Larry Ellison, the chief executive of Oracle, navigates the rough seas in the America's Cup on what can only be described as sheer adrenaline. Sir Richard Branson takes part in adventures such as crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in a hot-air balloon. And Eric Schmidt of Google is among close to 200 chief executives who take to the skies in their own airplanes.
This obsession with adrenaline and competition carries right back into this region, with many national leaders enjoying gruelling 160km endurance horse races, where it is man and his mount against all comers.
Reminiscent of childhood collecting but with huge budgets, top chief executives are avid collectors of art, cars and books. But unlike my childhood collection of Matchbox toy cars, Ralph Lauren's renowned car collection has more than 70 rare, real-life automobiles with a dozen on loan to museums.
The rarely spoken-of library of the late Steve Jobs and those of many other chief executives are considered very personal, and these owners claim such collections provide a competitive advantage. They argue that their reading from centuries past should stay private, as their reading is a window into what they are thinking.
Across the spectrum of A-list corporations, the obsession with detail characterises their chief executives. The top ones practise what others would dismiss as micromanagement, but, for them, it is a preoccupation with ensuring consistency and excellence.
There is a difference between being a micromanager and demanding the highest-level of precision and quality. Perhaps few have so famously demonstrated this obsession with detail as the late Jobs, who has been lauded for the unwavering insight and demand for high quality that he exhibited.
These chief executives are clearly risk-takers and seem to be more aggressive in their corporate dealings. They are also results oriented. There may be no one secret ingredient for creating a great chief executive, but perhaps the key to being one is commitment to hard work and an obsession with competition, collecting or quality.
Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Market Leadership Center