Study reveals the top performing CEOs

Last month Harvard Business Review published a new study seeking to answer the question: “Which global CEOs … delivered solid results over the long run?”

Rather than rely on reputation or rumor, HBR decided to focus on the “increase in total shareholder return and market capitalization” over the CEO’s entire duration. Only CEOs who’d been in the job for at least 2 years were studied.

It’s a methodology that makes sense and yielded some interesting results—including who didn’t make the list. Marissa Mayer from Yahoo!, Larry Page from Google, and Tony Hsieh from Zappos are among the unnamed.

And the winner is…

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Topping the list was Amazon Founder Jeffrey Bezos. HBR points out that Bezos frequently underperforms in the short term while continuing to make big investments in the future, a strategy that apparently serves Amazon and its shareholders well.

Notable statistics from the study:

  • On average, the top 50 CEOs have increased shareholder returns by 1,350% during their tenure.
  • 98 of the top CEOs are male; only 2 are female.
  • 29 of the CEOs have MBAs; 24 have studied engineering.
  • The highest-paid CEO on the list, Robert Iger from Disney (#60), has a total compensation package of 34.3 million. Jeff Bezos was at the bottom three for compensation, with a total package of 1.7 million.
  • The median pay for U.S. CEOs is 12.1 million; non-U.S. CEOs average 6.4 million.
  • The top-performing CEOs stay in their jobs longer and earn more in salary, bonus, equity awards, and options than their lower-performing peers.
  • Family and founder CEOs earn less than “outsiders.”
  • When the Reputation Institute was asked to rank HBR’s list, it became painfully obvious that doing good doesn’t necessarily translate into good financial reports. The Reputation Institute looked at factors such as work environment, citizenship, governance, leadership, and so on.
  • The former bullet notwithstanding, Bezos ranked #4 on the Reputation Institute list. Publishers and even authors may have their beef with Amazon, but the company enjoys an envious reputation nonetheless. Only Swatch (#3), Novo Nordisk (#2), and Volkswagen (#1) ranked higher.
  • 13 of the CEOs have a different nationality from their company. That number is more than twice the 2013 results.

Of course, inquiring minds want to know—how do the top-performing CEOs do what they do?

Once again, HBR looked to Bezos, citing his “constant pursuit of a clear vision to be ‘the most customer-centric company in the world.’” HBR summed it up this way: “The leader most adamantly ignoring Wall Street pressure creates the most value—and the company that spends next to nothing on advertising and PR ends up with a great reputation.”

To create their list of the best-performing CEOs in the world, HBR began with the companies that were in the S&P Global 1200 at the end of 2013.


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