About the CEOs and their business involvement

The GNZB Survey was sent to the Chief Executive Officer of 11,188 manufacturing and business service SMEs (with fewer than 250 employees) in November 2010.


The average age of Chief Executives/Proprietors/Senior Partners was 55. They had been with their business for 18 years on average, 15 of those as CEO. Only 11% were women. Female CEOs were more common in newer businesses with 17% of these, starting since 2000.


Three quarters were founders or acquirers of their business, and roughly half had been involved in founding or acquiring more than one business. A desire to run their own business was the predominant founding motivation – twice as commonly cited as a desire to implement a new idea or wealth ambitions. Actual or potential unemployment was a factor in about 15% of businesses.


44% listed high school as their highest level of education, 37% listed university (first degree) and 18% had postgraduate education. 40% had a professional qualification, 25% had a technical qualification, 8% had both, and 25% had neither.

Figure 1: Business objectives

Note: 1 = Insignificant; 2 = Slightly significant; 3 = Moderately significant; 4 = Very significant; 5 = Crucial. Figure shows means of responses.



CEOs were asked: "From a personal point of view, how important have the following been to you in your involvement in the business?" Highest ranked was the classic reason people give for starting a business: "Freedom to set and pursue my own objectives." Financial objectives – maximising current and future returns, increasing wealth – were also very important. And so was having fun. At the other end of the spectrum, creating a lasting legacy and creating something new and distinctive were rated relatively low, as was increasing value for potential capital gains.


Asked about involvement in decision-making, half chose "personal control of strategic and operating decisions", a quarter "personal control of strategic decisions but delegation of operating decisions", a fifth "key member of group taking strategic decisions with indirect control of operating decisions" and the balance "other". Personal control of both strategic and operating decisions was, not surprisingly, much more common in micro businesses, while more devolved forms were common in medium-sized businesses.

Ownership change

Two thirds of the CEOs envisaged a change of ownership in the business within the next ten years. In fact, half envisaged a change within five years. Over a third (37%) envisaged a sale to another company. Those envisaging ownership change were somewhat more prevalent in small businesses, businesses with stable or declining turnover growth, and businesses with novel, industry-level innovations; this hints of a bifurcation, with some envisaging exit in the face of duress, and others under favourable circumstances.