Purpose - This Malaysian study aims to use upper echelons theory and social identity theory variables to determine the chief executive officer (CEO) characteristics and attitudes associated with economic corporate social responsibility (CSR), legal-ethical CSR and discretionary CSR in Malaysian firms. The authors hypothesize that CSR engagements in the form of altruistic behaviour, with executives being part of the upper echelon, would tend to be expressing their values at individual level through the firm if they are affectively committed to their company. Design/methodology/approach - Using a sample of 151 Malaysian firms that took part in an annual CEO survey in 2010, the study measures executive citizenship as CEOs having critical attitude towards public issues such as public transportation, public education and crime. Hierarchical regression analyses are used to associate the CEO attitudes with the firms CSR. Findings - The authors find that executive citizenship attitude is significant and positively related to firm s legal- ethical CSR. The authors also find that executive organizational commitment has a significant positive impact on dimensions of CSR. Additionally, the executive tenure impacts the level of philanthropic CSR of the firm. Originality/value - In Malaysia, firms have a strong incentive to engage in CSR to enhance their reputation and legitimacy because of the government s influence on commercial activities. Our study is the first to examine how this notion of legitimization efforts at the individual level affects firms CSR activities.