Who Is the Smartest American Tech Exec? The Most Emotionally Intelligent?

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Nope, it’s not Elon Musk or the eloquent Sam Altman who heads OpenAI (maker of the wildly hyped up ChatGPT). Anyone is free to name their favorite “smart” tech CEO, but it would not be newsworthy unless there are scientific or near-scientific rules or standards set—something similar to what e-learning platform Preply came up with recently.

Preply generated a list of the 100 smartest CEOs in the United States, and the personalities topping it might surprise many. Elon Musk is in the list, comfortably in the upper part, but he is not regarded as among the tech industry’s smartest.

The list

Preply’s list does not exclusively focus on tech CEOs. It is for CEOs of all kinds of companies, but it’s unsurprising that most of the business leaders listed are from the tech sector. Topping the list is DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis. DeepMind is a British-American AI lab that was eventually acquired by Google, and Hassabis stint at the company has allowed him to showcase his undeniable smarts.

The second to fourth positions are held by non-tech CEOs, namely Stephen Shwarzman of Blackstone, Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, David Solomon of Goldman Sachs. The companies of these CEOs may have some tech operations, but tech is not their main business.

If the Preply list were to be reduced to a list of the “smartest tech CEOs,” former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would be in second place. Taking the third spot is NVIDIA’s Jensen Huong, while the fourth is Reed Hastings of Netflix. Completing the top five is Mark Zuckerberg of Meta/Facebook.

The top six to ten names (for the tech-only list) are current Amazon CEO Andrew Jassy, Brian Chesky of Airbnb, Elon Musk of Tesla, Whitney Herd of Bumble (online dating and social networking app), and Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber.

The CEO of Lockheed Martin, Jim Taiclet, is also in the list. Lockheed Martin may not be prominently recognized as a tech company, but it is one of the biggest businesses involved in tech-related research and development. The company has developed many of the world’s most advanced weapons and defense systems.

Other notable names included in the Preply list are Shantanu Narayen of Adobe, Patrick Gelsinger of Intel, Sandeep Mathrani of WeWork, Tim Cook of Apple, Tobias Lutke of Shopify, and Sam Altman of Open AI. Microsoft’s Satya Nadelia, Lyft’s John Zimmer, and Zoom’s Eric Yuan are also in the list.

Interestingly, YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki and Cisco’s Chuck Robbins are in the lower end of the list (83rd in the full Preply list not focused on tech companies).

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How the list was created

Preply’s list is based mainly on the spoken language skills of the CEOs evaluated. While it is true that someone’s articulateness cannot be the sole basis of measuring intelligence, it can be argued that the ability to verbalize thoughts cohesively and in a substantial manner is a good indication of intellectual prowess. As a few of the research conducted by University of Bielefeld psychology professor Peter Borkenau show, the way a person talks can provide indications of personality and intelligence.

Preply had a team that conducted in-depth analysis of the public speeches, interviews, and talks of American CEOs. The sample clips were all sourced from YouTube. Up to 180 minutes of samples for each of the CEOs were compiled and evaluated. Only American CEOs were considered to establish consistency in the application of standards, since language is the main basis for evaluation.

The assessment of the samples examines five key attributes, as described below:

  • Diversity of the words used – This measures the extent of vocabulary of the CEO evaluated. The use of more diverse words increases the score while the repetitive use of words and phrases yield the opposite effect.
  • Sophistication of the words and phrases used – The speeches, conversations, and other instances of use of spoken language of CEOs were also examined for their sophistication. The vocabulary diversity mentioned above is about vocabulary quantity, while this factor scrutinizes vocabulary quality. Using more complex words and expressions boosts the scores.
  • Readability – The conversations or speeches in the sample videos were then transcribed and examined for their readability. This factor is taken into account to gauge the intricacy of sentence structures and the depth of ideas laid out.
  • Critical thinking – For this factor, Preply’s team assessed the argument formation quality of the CEOs, including their ability to deconstruct points and instantaneously undertake thought analysis.
  • Contextual relevance – The last key characteristic evaluated was the ability of CEOs to utter thoughts coherently and link their utterances with broader contexts and bring into the discussions insights from other fields.

Every CEO was scored by Preply’s team of experts in the range of 0 to 100. Preply, however, did not provide details about the members of the team that conducted the evaluation.

Caveat and other lists

To be clear, Preply is not claiming that their list is a definitive ranking of the most intelligent CEOs in the United States. They are presenting a ranked list that is based on their expertise in examining verbal skills, their main expertise. There is no reason for fans of certain tech leaders to be up in arms.

Preply also featured other ranked lists using other attributes. They examined emotional intelligence, wherein Dan Clancy of Twitch emerged as the top tech CEO. They also had a list of top team-focused executives, which puts Chuck Robbins of Cisco Systems on top. Additionally, there’s a list of top customer-focused and top positivity-focused executives, which had Eric Yuan (Zoom) and Bill Ready (Pinterest) as the leaders.

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