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When CEOs adapt: An investigation of manager experience, policy and performance following recessions

Brian Blank () and Brandy Hadley

Journal of Corporate Finance, 2021, vol. 71, issue C

Abstract: We examine changes in corporate policies following recessions during CEO tenures to evaluate the value of learning. CEOs with recession experience demonstrate expertise in risk-shifting strategies that can contribute to higher firm value and performance during subsequent recessions. Specifically, Recession CEOs use conservative capital structure and allocation during expansions, providing excess capacity and financial slack to accumulate additional cash reserves during economic contractions, resulting in lower bankruptcy risk. As a result, Recession CEOs are equipped to raise more capital in recessions, which results in higher asset growth fueled by investments in acquisitions and capital expenditures. We also examine prior recessions and find poor performers learn to invest more and perform better in subsequent contractions. Our results are strengthened through cumulative recession experiences, when downturns are deeper, and at cyclical firms, where economic cycles are most impactful and Recession CEOs are more relevant. Finally, we use time-varying industry downturns, matching, and CEO turnovers for inference. Overall, we offer novel evidence of valuable CEO learning around risk-taking following direct managerial experience as a firm policy determinant across economic conditions.

Keywords: CEO learning and experience; Risk-taking; Financial policy; Capital allocation (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: E32 G32 J24 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.jcorpfin.2021.102118

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