CEO Speak: The Language of Corporate Leadership


243 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-3037-1
DDC 658.4'5




Reviewed by Robert W. Sexty

Robert W. Sexty is a professor of commerce and business administration
at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is the author of Canadian
Business: Issues and Stakeholders.


CEO-speak is the language used by executives when commenting on business
matters. The first chapter of this scholarly analysis of CEO-speak
explains why it is important to study the words of business leaders. The
10 chapters that follow examine the written communications of executives
from multinationals such as Enron, Microsoft, IBM, GE, and Disney. A
concluding chapter makes recommendations for greater accountability for
CEO-speak. Six appendixes contain examples of the documents analysed in
the study. Extensive footnoting is used and a bibliography is included.

The authors, both management school professors, examined selected
corporate documents such as letters to shareholders, policy statements,
press releases, websites, and CEO-authored articles. They argue that the
language used by executives is powerful and seductive rhetoric intended
to influence the financial outlook and opinion of the corporation. The
selected communications were scrutinized for three features: ideology
(the existence of share values, beliefs, and norms); rhetoric (the
techniques of argumentation used); and metaphor (the conceptualizing of
one domain in terms of another). Attention is also given to
hypertextuality (the interconnectedness of written words and their
interpretation as facilitated by the Internet).

The results are not flattering to business executives who are
determined to be elitist and “exclusionary propagators of a biased
stream of discourse.” Their rhetoric is considered to be supportive of
neo-liberalism, individualism, hyper-competition, and global capitalism.
The authors claim to have used a representative sample of documents
that, although not exhaustive, are indicative of practice. This sample
is too small and includes only CEO-written communications relating to
financial matters. The authors conclude that there should be a deeper
questioning of CEO-speak, and they make several unrealistic
recommendations for monitoring and regulating it.

While the authors rightly alert readers to CEO-speak, they should have
mentioned that leadership-speak also exists in public administration,
politics, churches, police and military forces—which is to say in all
institutions of society.


Amernic, Joel, and Russel Craig., “CEO Speak: The Language of Corporate Leadership,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024,