Professor's 'What Doesn't Kill You' research earns a nearly noble prize

But for two letters, Vineet Bhagwat would have a Nobel Prize.

Bhagwat, an assistant professor of finance at the UO, instead had to settle for something a little less prestigious but a lot more fun. He is part of a team of researchers recently awarded the facetiously named Ig Nobel Prize, given to scholars whose work deepens our knowledge pool even if it sounds a bit shallow at first blush.

Bhagwat and two colleagues — Gennaro Bernile of Singapore Management University and P. Raghavendra Rau of the University of Cambridge — were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize for Management for work on risk-taking behavior by CEOs. The 25th annual awards were given earlier this month by the Annals of Improbable Research, a magazine that celebrates “research that makes you LAUGH, then THINK.”

In a nutshell, Bhagwat and his co-researchers looked at CEOs who had lived through some kind of natural disaster — tornado, flood, earthquake, etc. — as children to see if that affected their propensity as adults to take on risk, an important facet of management. What they found was that CEOs who experienced a natural disaster that did not include a traumatic event like the loss of a loved one were more prone to taking risks than CEOs who as children did experience a traumatic loss in a natural disaster.

“Those CEOs who experienced major fatal disasters were less likely to manage risky firms or take on risky investments,” Bhagwat said. “We're not making any value judgments in that we can't say whether taking on more risk is definitively ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the firm. But it is revealing that early-life experiences not only have such a long-lasting impact, but also that the impact can be different depending on the strength of that experience.”

The paper is “What Doesn’t Kill You Will Only Make You More Risk-Loving: Early Life Disasters and CEO Behavior,” a title that deserves a prize of its own. The Internet is full of stories on the awards; for a sample check out this story from Cambridge University or this one from The Washington Post.