Does being a first-born child make you traditional, dependable but also stubborn as an adult? And does being a later-born sibling make you easygoing, reserved and willing to take chances?
Frank Sulloway, a research scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, thinks so. In a new book called Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, Sulloway says birth order often dictates how a person behaves his whole life.
First-borns usually are self-assured, authoritarian conformists, the book says. They "employ their superior size and strength to defend their special status," Sulloway writes. Conversely, later-born siblings are shy, soft-spoken "underdogs" open to adventure and innovation.
Born to Rebel is based on 26 years of research by Sulloway, who analyzed 6,566 people who took part in 121 social and scientific upheavals, such as the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution and Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.
His book doesn't address how these findings apply to the business world, but in interviews, Sulloway says birth order does affect business leaders and their job performance.
"Strategy is something that later-borns ought to be superior at compared with first-borns, who are in turn more adept at managing than at strategic overhauls," he says.
If a company wants to encourage careful, steady growth, then a first-born should be its leader, Sulloway says. But if a corporation is just starting or is faced with a dramatic overhaul, a later-born should be in charge.
As with any study, some people think Born to Rebel has its merits while others think it's ridiculous. Asking corporate leaders around the Tampa Bay area about the book's conclusions also brought across-the-board reactions.
Many local business leaders are first-borns, like Jack Critchfield, Florida Progress' chairman and CEO; Vince Naimoli, managing general partner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays; and George Off, president and CEO of Catalina Marketing.
But many others are later-borns, including Bruce Siegel, president of Tampa General Hospital; Chris Sullivan, chairman and CEO of Outback Steakhouse; and Tom Snow, president of the Carlton Fields law firm.
In a random sampling by the Times, some executives thought they fit their birth-order profiles quite well. But others said they could not be so easily categorized, and some thought the whole concept was ludicrous.
Thomas James, CEO of Raymond James Financial Inc., said birth-order profiles are "about as good as astrological signs" in predicting leadership behavior.
By contrast, Jean Gilbert thinks birth order probably is a valid predictor of behavior. The second of three children, Gilbert runs a Tampa-based travel agency called Travel Services Unlimited.
"I've never thought of birth order in the business sense, but when I was an elementary-school teacher, I certainly noticed it," she says. "My first-born students always listened attentively, while the later-born children were more rebellious and inquisitive."
Take Eckerd, for example
If Sulloway were looking for a business case study to support his theories about birth order, the story of Eckerd Corp. would be a good choice.
The drugstore chain was founded by Jack Eckerd, a middle child in a family of seven children. But now, as a multibillion-dollar company, it's run by Frank Newman, who took the role of a first-born after the death of an older brother.
Jack Eckerd was a visionary. In 1952, he was driving around largely undeveloped Tampa Bay in his red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, looking at sites for his new self-service drugstores.
Spotting more and more new homes with children's bikes on the lawns and clotheslines hanging low with the family wash, "I saw tremendous growth potential in Florida," he says.
Eckerd, now 83, bought three drugstores _ one in Clearwater and two in Tampa _ for $150,000, and went on to build a hugely successful chain, retiring as chairman in 1986.
Now, the company is in the hands of a different kind of leader.
When Frank Newman arrives at work each morning in his silver 911 Turbo Porsche, he takes command of a company with 2,697 stores spread out over 24 states and valued at about $2.8-billion.
Newman, 48, isn't technically a first-born, but when his older brother died as a teenager, Newman at age 14 took on the role of the first-born, he said.
The son of a British Foreign Service officer, Newman fits Sulloway's first-born profile. "I've always been more of a conformist," he says. "I was raised to never bring disgrace to the family name."
While innovation is very important to Newman, he sees himself as a careful steward of the corporation and as someone who is comfortable wielding authority. "I believe in participatory decisionmaking," he says, "but in authoritative implementation of those decisions."
Selecting your traits
But as Eckerd Corp.'s Newman describes himself, one thing is clear: He doesn't want to be painted as an authoritarian who's unwilling to adapt to change.
That typified many area executives' responses when asked about Born To Rebel's conclusions. They often embraced the positive aspects of their birth-order traits, while rejecting those that could be a negative.
For instance, first-born executives liked being called aggressive and dependable. But don't call them stubborn and inflexible.
And later-borns seemed comfortable with descriptions of their flexibility and easygoing nature, but don't call them radicals or suggest they can't be strong leaders.
Birth order isn't the only determining factor in behavior, says author Sulloway. Age and the social attitude of the family are also important factors.
Young people tend to be more open to new ideas, he says, because they have less invested in established society. And children tend to adopt social attitudes from their parents.
So how seriously should we take his research?
Some academics say we shouldn't. Boston University sociology professor Alan Wolfe calls Born to Rebel "bad science."
But others say there is some truth in Sulloway's findings.
The book is "all very fascinating and, like "survival of the fittest,' on some level it just seems right," says economist Lester Thurow, a colleague of Sulloway's at MIT.
Still, "there are always exceptions, so it's too conditional," he says. "You can't use it to make decisions."
Indeed, most area executives said they doubt that birth order would be a useful determining factor in selecting a CEO.
The Williams brothers
Fran and Joe Williams are brothers who each run companies. Fran is the chairman of Kimmins Recycling and Kimmins Construction in Tampa. Joe, the first-born, is president and CEO of a Buffalo, N.Y., investment firm. Joe is also a consultant to Integrated Waste Services Inc., also in Buffalo.
"I don't think a person's success or failure has anything to do with birth order," says Joe, 68. "It has a lot more to do with a person understanding the difference between "I can' and "I could.'
Still, the brothers seem to fit Born to Rebel's profiles perfectly.
First-born Joe likes to be noticed. "Growing up, I always wanted to be a leader," he says.
He can be demanding and intimidating, Joe admits. "Everyone says I'll get angry at the drop of a hat," he says. "It's important for me to be right."
Fran, 55, is a later-born who likes a low profile. "I just don't have a craving for visibility," he says.
Thankfully, Fran realizes that his personality _ whether it's from his birth order or from other influences _ makes it tough for him to be tough. "Sometimes I'm too concerned over whether people like me," he says.
He has a simple solution:
"I look for chief operating officers that don't care about being liked and just want to get the job done."
_ Information from the New York Times was used in this report.
Profiles in contrast
Here are some distinguishing characteristics of first-borns and later-borns, according to research scholar and science historian Frank L. Sulloway:
+ Usually maintain the status quo
+ Seek reform within a system
+ Tend to be cautious
+ Can be aggressive and combative
+ Manage authoritatively
+ Generally are self-assured
+ Try to please parents
+ Prone to jealousy
+ Engage in safe activities
+ Comfortable as a strong leader
+ Strive to stay number one
+ Prefer innovation
+ Foster radical overhauls
+ Generally are risk takers
+ Usually are easygoing
+ Often delegate
+ Can be shy and introverted
+ Do not seek parent approval
+ Rarely jealous
+ Can be dangerously adventurous
+ Dislikes strict leadership
+ Compete to be number one
Source: Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives, by Frank J. Sulloway, research scholar and science historian, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Birth order: How valid?
In a new book, Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics and Creative Lives, first-born children are described as cautious, authoritative and sometimes combative. Later-borns, meanwhile, are shy but adventurous and free-thinking.
In a random sampling of area business leaders, reaction was split as to whether birth order is a factor in how executives function. A look at some of their responses:
+ Jack Critchfield, 63, chairman and CEO of Florida Progress Corp. in St. Petersburg, says he fits most of the description of a first-born. Still, he says, growing up in Rockwood, Pa., during the tail end of the Depression _ more than birth order _ fostered his careful, deliberate leadership style.
"In my family I was expected to be more of an adult than a child because times were tough," he says. "I started work at age 11 and used my own money to buy resoled shoes and clothes."
Thomas James, 54, chairman and CEO of Raymond James Financial Inc. in St. Petersburg, doesn't give much credence to birth order as a determining factor in adult behavior.
James, whose father founded the investment company, also doesn't see himself fitting the stereotype of a first-born. He says he delegates authority quite often and focuses on team effort.
"My managing style isn't the military model where the general passes down orders from above," he says.
+ Vince Naimoli, 59, managing general partner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team, also doesn't think of himself as authoritarian.
"I've always been open to new ideas and suggestions," he says. "I also found that the people closest to a problem are the closest to the solution."
+ George Off, 49, president and CEO of Catalina Marketing in St. Petersburg, does not believe the first-born profile applies completely to him because marketing is about change and innovation.
For instance, Off says he assembled a team two years ago to figure out how to build Catalina's business on the Internet. He says his management style is "much more of a decentralized approach."
+ James Stalnaker, 42, president and CEO of Community National Bank of Pasco in Zephyrhills, believes the first-born profile very much describes him.
At the bank, "I always listen to my people, but if I disagree with their ideas, we're going to do it my way," he says.
+ Gerald Archibald, 57, president and CEO of the Village Bank of Florida in Tampa, says, "I'm sure my schoolteachers would have said that I was rebellious."
His nickname while growing up was "the radical." Archibald gives his staff plenty of room in which to operate, although he holds them accountable, he says.
+ Jean Gilbert, 55, president of Travel Services Unlimited in Tampa, says she probably fits the later-born description, particularly since she feels she's open to change and new ideas.
Birth order may be a valid predictor of behavior, "but you still need to look at people as individuals," she says.
+ Jack Munsell, 68, president and CEO of South Hillsborough Community Bank in Apollo Beach, doesn't think of himself as a rebel. "I was pretty much of a conformist growing up," he says. "I really don't feel my generation was rebellious."
Still, he says his management style is not authoritarian: He prefers to lead by example, rather than by fear.
+ Ray Naimoli, 54, chief financial officer for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, is Vince Naimoli's younger brother. Although he is a CPA, he says he doesn't fit "an accountant's bean-counter image." In fact, he drives a black Ford Mustang convertible.
Ray feels he fits the later-born profile: He doesn't mind taking risks and enjoys doing unusual things like vacationing in Alaska. Still, he thinks that he and big brother Vince are both innovators.
"We come from a blue-collar background, put ourselves through college and took risks to succeed," he says. "Neither one of us could afford to take a conservative approach."
+ Bruce Siegel, 36, president of Tampa General Hospital, says "I like to think of myself as an agent of change."
Indeed, Siegel is involved in a proposal to turn TGH from a public hospital into a private, non-profit facility. His management style is "hands-on and pragmatic, not authoritarian at all."
Tom Snow, 50, president of Carlton Fields law firm in Tampa, says the birth order profiles make sense. "I share more of a rebellious and innovative personality," he says.
As a later-born who is receptive to innovation, Snow believes he's well-suited to lead his firm because the legal world is changing so rapidly.
+ Chris Sullivan, 49, chairman and CEO of Outback Steakhouse Inc. in Tampa, grew up as the son of an FBI agent, but "of course, I'm a product of the '60s and '70s, so I've got to be a rebel," he says.
Sullivan, who thinks he fits the later-born profile, says he surrounded himself with different kinds of people as he was growing up, which "made me open to all different kinds of experiences."
_ George Fleming