It’s lonely at the top.

That’s what former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz recently told Freakonomics Radio, for its new “The Secret Life of CEOs” series that launched Thursday, about being a CEO. “People don’t talk about this a lot, but it is a very lonely job,” she proclaimed.

And that may be even more true for women — they represent just 6% of the CEOs running Fortune 500 companies — even in the era of #MeToo. “I was so hopeful that my daughter would go to college, and be with open-minded young men, they’d all work together in school, and when they got out, they’d all realize that they were equally smart, and, you know, off we’d go and things would change,” Bartz said. “It’s exactly the opposite. They got out, the guys got these jobs, they got a little money, and they turned into old frat boys in business.”

The job of CEO is also a pressure cooker: “These hard decisions around what to pick and focus on … that’s your core responsibility, and especially taking those decisions that impact people’s lives and livelihood is not easy,” says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “It weighs very heavily on me personally, taking those decisions that impact people’s lives and livelihood is not easy.”

Still, there are other perks to the job: “I’ve never had to report to anybody since I was — well, since I left school at 15,” Virgin CEO Richard Branson said on “The Secret Life of CEOs” mini-series. “And that’s a luxury. I can do, you know, foolish things like, ‘Let’s start a spaceship company.’”

The pay isn’t too bad either — a topic that’s explored on the first episode of “The Secret Life of CEOs.” Indeed, in 2016 CEOs in America’s largest companies made $15.6 million in compensation on average — 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker — according to data released in 2017 by the Economic Policy Institute.


Branson, Bartz and Nadella’s insights are just some of the thoughts that CEOs shared on Freakonomics Radios’ special six-week series, “The Secret Life of CEOs,” which launched January 18th. It will feature interviews with academic experts and current and former CEOs: Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Richard Branson (Virgin), Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo), Jack Welch (General Electric), Ellen Pao (Reddit), Carol Bartz (Yahoo!), Ray Dalio (Bridgewater Associates), and David Rubenstein (The Carlyle Group).

“Most of us hear about CEOs only when something very bad or very good happens,” Dubner says. “We wanted to know what’s going on the other 99.9% of the time. We also wanted to know how they got where they are, whether they deserve those gigantic paychecks, and if it’s lonely at the top.”

The episode schedule is below; full interviews with the CEOs will be released weekly when the main series concludes:

“The Secret Life of CEOs” Schedule:
* Episode 1 (Jan 18): What does a CEO do, what makes a good one, and how can you tell?
* Episode 2 (Jan 25): The rise of the CEO: How do CEOs reach their lofty perch while others do not? We’ll look at the diverse origin stories of our roster of CEOs and the stories of their corporate climb.
* Episode 3 (Feb 1). The Life of a CEO: a profile of Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico since 2006.
* Episode 4 (Feb 8): Hard Choices and Hard Times — how CEOs manage crisis
* Episode 5 (Feb 15): THE 6% — How women who break through the glass ceiling, may find themselves on a “glass cliff.”
* Episode 6 (Feb 22): Letting Go: Preparing for succession and the post-CEO life.