A Socio-cognitive Model of Sustainability Performance : Linking CEO Career Experience, Social Ties, and Attention Breadth

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

12 Scopus Citations
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303–321
Journal / PublicationJournal of Business Ethics
Issue number2
Online published19 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


Achieving sustainability as a firm outcome is increasingly a concern for CEOs. Attention breadth (executive attention where attention is focused on a variety of areas simultaneously) is an important capability for CEOs to have in order to achieve sustainability performance at the firm level, as sustainability requires attending to multiple areas simultaneously including environmental, social, and governance dimensions as well as financial performance. To further explicate the development of attention breadth, I explore the two socio-cognitive antecedents of attention breadth—career experience and social ties. Additionally, I examine the impact of CEO attention breadth on sustainability performance. A content analysis of letters to shareholders from a sample of Fortune 500 firms together with other archival data show an indirect influence of career experience and social ties on sustainability performance through the mediator of attention breadth. In particular, the number of social ties is shown to have more influence than career experience in determining the level of attention breadth, which I argue and show, ultimately leads to improved sustainability performance represented by a broader and more complex set of firm outcomes. The findings shed light on the antecedents of sustainability performance and expand the understanding of executive attention.

Research Area(s)

  • Attention breadth, Attention capacity, Attention load, Career experience, Corporate sustainability, External boards