This article investigates the effects of individual directors for corporate strategies and firm performance over the course of the 20th century for Dutch exchange-listed firms. We apply a multi-method approach on directors with many executive and supervisory roles in multiple firms – so-called big linkers. We first identify exceptional big linkers, board members whose presence is systematically related with firm characteristics. Our approach allows us to identify a number of exceptional individuals who were previously overlooked by business historians. Then we investigate the backgrounds of these exceptional big linkers. We find that their biographies and other archival materials provide explanations for their systematic relation with corporate outcome variables such as performance, debt and investments. Using additional information about these directors, including network centrality, bank relations and family histories, we are able to shed light on the multitude of explanations for the roles of exceptional big linkers.