More often than not, companies are bred in the image of their Chief Executive Officer. Not only are they at the head of all operations and decision-making processes, but they are also responsible for setting the tone of their company’s culture. A good CEO can take a company to new heights, while a bad one can drag it down into obscurity.
Therefore, to try and identify what makes a successful (and popular) CEO, we’ve compiled a definitive list of ten of the best, taking into consideration their achievements, the performance of their company and how their employees perceive them.
Here are the top 10 CEOs in the world in 2019.
Disclaimer: How did we compile this list?
We took data from four leading industry sources (Glassdoor, CEO World, CEO Today, and the Harvard Business Review) and averaged out their respective rankings to arrive at a final “score”. We feel that this is the fairest way to do things, as it balances the subjective opinions of each CEO’s employees (i.e. the Glassdoor list) against the more objective takes of industry observers and experts.
10. Shantanu Narayen
As with many CEOs, Shantanu Narayen is a former company COO, rising to the top job in December 2007. Following his bold decision to move Adobe’s key software programmes (such as Photoshop) from the desktop to the cloud, the company has seen continual growth; indeed, at the start of July 2019, Adobe’s market capitalisation was at an all-time high of $152.3bn, compared to just $25.3bn when Narayen was initially appointed.
In addition to his work with Adobe, the former Apple executive has served on Barack Obama’s Management Advisory Board, as well as the board of pharmaceuticals giant, Pfizer. Outside of business, the Indian-born Berkeley graduate has also represented his country in sailing at the Asian Regatta.
9. Craig Jelinek
Initially joining the company as a warehouse manager in 1984, Craig Jelinek served as Costco’s President and COO, before succeeding founder and long-time CEO Jim Sinegal in 2012. Under his leadership, Costco’s value has grown exponentially; as of August 2019, the company’s share price is $269, compared to just $83 on the day of Jelinek’s appointment.
It’s not only on the stock market that the San Diego State graduate has impressed, though. Jelinek has continued to push Sinegal’s employee-first management mantra much to the delight of staff, while his commitment to Costco’s low overhead, production rotation approach has resulted in a happy customer base, too.
8. Warren Buffett
Company: Berkshire Hathaway
As reputations go, Warren Buffet’s speaks for itself. An almost sage-like investor, a noted philanthropist and, at the age of 88, the third wealthiest person in the world, Buffet’s business legacy is undoubtedly an intense one.
As CEO of holdings company Berkshire Hathaway, he has overseen the acquisition of shares in numerous household brands, such as Coca Cola, Apple and American Express, while his company boasts the most expensive share price in the world; as of August 2019, investors have to cough up over $300,000 per share for a piece of Berkshire Hathaway.
7. Jeff Bezos
The only CEO on this list wealthier than Buffett, Jeff Bezos doesn’t always necessarily elicit the warmest reception from his Amazon employees although, in October 2018, following continued criticism of the company’s salary structure, he did raise wages across the board. What can’t be debated, however, is Bezos’ ability to scale and grow Amazon from a simple consumer goods store into, simultaneously, a cloud storage service, high-budget content creator and artificial intelligence pioneer.
This aggressive scaling is a hallmark of the Princeton graduate’s leadership style, which remains highly entrepreneurial in spite of Amazon’s undoubted success. Bezos has also used his wealth to explore other industries, acquiring the Washington Post newspaper in 2013, as well as founding Blue Origin, a private space exploration company, in 2000.
6. Lakshmi Mittal
Known as the “King of Steel”, Lakshmi Mittal is certainly nothing if not robust; in spite of numerous accusations of price-fixing, bribery and allowing questionable health and safety practices within the company, he managed to ride a buoyant market wave in 2018 and steer ArcelorMittal to a profitable year.
Despite more challenging conditions in 2019, especially in the European market, Mittal has plans to sell over $2bn worth of non-essential assets to keep the company moving in the right direction. Despite his lavish personal spending sprees, the Indian-born steel magnate is also a noted philanthropist.
5. Marc Benioff
As vice president of database giant Oracle by the age of 26, Marc Benioff has always been destined for great things; as co-CEO of his own startup - the cloud-based SAAS provider Salesforce - since 1999, he has undoubtedly achieved them.
Under his leadership, the company regularly ranks as one of the best employers in the world, while shareholders have every reason to be pleased, too; in April 2019, for instance, its share price reached a record-high $166, achieving a market capitalisation of $131.6bn.
A keen philanthropist and social activist, Benioff also purchased the US newsweekly Time in 2018.
4. Akio Toyoda
Company: Toyota Motors
The grandson of Toyota Motors founder Kiichiro Toyoda, Akio Toyoda has been groomed for power since joining the company in 1984. He has certainly delivered since taking up the position, too, navigating a difficult first few years in which Toyota was subject to an international quality control crisis.
While sales in its biggest markets were down in its FY19 accounts, it still boasts a market capitalisation of $190bn (July 2019), compared to around $80bn when Toyoda was appointed; under his leadership, the company has also seized control of the hybrid car market, spearheaded by its closely guarded Prius model. The part-time racing enthusiast is also keen to diversify, too, investing around $3bn into software development for driverless cars in 2018.
3. Jen Hsun-Huang (aka Jensen Huang)
A Stanford-educated electrical engineer by trade, Huang co-founded Nvidia in 1993, taking the company public in 1999 and remaining at the helm ever since. Specialising in graphics drivers for computers and, increasingly, design chips for AI purposes, the company saw a record high market capitalisation of $175bn in late 2018.
While those share prices have dropped in 2019, the company continues to innovate under Huang’s guidance, particularly in the high-potential deep learning field; this includes providing funding and support to AI and data science startups, while Huang himself was named as one of that field’s most influential people in 2018.
2. Tim Cook
Filling the shoes of Steve Jobs is about as high-pressure as it can get in the tech world, yet Tim Cook has undoubtedly moved Apple forward since being appointed (by Jobs) in 2011.
Under his watch, the company’s market capitalisation famously exceeded $1 trillion in March 2018, while Apple’s philanthropic and environmental contributions have also increased significantly. While Cook’s creative and visionary influence is undeniably smaller than Jobs’, the Duke graduate is open about delegating product design control to Apple’s designers and engineers, preferring instead to manage the company in a democratic – rather than autocratic – way.
As the iPhone market matures and Apple’s profits begin to plateau, Cook’s most significant challenges may yet lie ahead, but until then, nobody can argue that his reign hasn't been worthy of his illustrious predecessor.
1. Satya Nadella
Taking top spot, according to our list, though, is the head of one of Apple’s traditional rivals; Indian-born Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella.
As president of Microsoft’s Server and Tools Business, the Chicago Booth graduate was heavily involved in the development and success of the Azure cloud service, earning the nod to succeed Steve Ballmer in 2014. Since then, he has taken the company in a more collaborative direction, choosing to work with competitors such as Apple, IBM and Salesforce, rather than against them.
He has also changed the company’s mission statement and corporate culture, as well as overseen several notable acquisitions, including LinkedIn and Mojang, the Swedish developer of the popular video game Minecraft.
Nadella's changes are having a positive effect, too; since 2014, Microsoft’s share price has grown exponentially, from $38 at the date of his appointment, to $137 as of August 2019.
As these CEOs prove, business leadership is about striking a balance between aggressive scaling, employee engagement and the foresight to embrace key opportunities. Some may lean more in different directions, but their performances will always be judged on the health of the companies that they are entrusted to lead.
Don’t forget to take a look at our breakdown of the top 10 female CEOs in the world, either.
What do you think of this list? Who deserves to be here, and who doesn’t? Let us know in the comments below.