The best corporate executives aren’t always the most popular ones. They drive revenue growth, earnings, and deliver shareholder returns despite uncertainties, headwinds, and sometimes criticism. Barron’s has published its annual list of 30 of the world’s best chief executives. Instead of ranking the chief executives, Barron’s has separated them into three groups: visionary founders, growth leaders, and change agents.
How Barron’s identified the best chief executives
The list includes 11 new names, and each of them deserves to be among the best. It also means that a number of CEOs from last year’s list were dropped off this year for one reason or another. To compile the list, Barron’s editors reviewed the performance of the CEOs of S&P 500 companies. They also screened through a large number of foreign chief executives.
The publication compiled the list based the results delivered by CEOs in terms of revenue growth, profit growth, and shareholder returns. It has little to do with popularity or public perception of a chief executive. That’s why leaders like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Larry Page of Alphabet have made it to the top 30 despite facing widespread criticism over data scandals and user privacy.
Bob Iger of Walt Disney is the kind of growth leader every corporation would want to have. Under his leadership, Walt Disney’s market value has skyrocketed 433%. Barron’s described Iger as “Disney’s most important figure since Walt himself.”
McDonald’s chief executive Steve Easterbrook has been driving growth by allowing customers to order beforehand via smartphone or order through a digital kiosk. The drive-through service has also become faster than before. As a result, the same-store sales and stock price have been rising sharply.
Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon has almost doubled the S&P 500’s annual return since 2013. Henry Fernandez of MSCI has expanded MSCI into a supermarket for financial benchmarks as investment indexes have become more important than ever before.
The top 30
These are the top 30 best chief executives in the world this year:
- Mary Barra, General Motors
- Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com
- Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway
- Gary Dickerson, Applied Materials
- Mary Dillon, Ulta Beauty
- Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase
- Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s
- Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises
- Henry Fernandez, MSCI
- Laurence Fink, BlackRock
- Fabrizio Freda, Estée Lauder
- Reed Hastings, Netflix
- Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin
- Ma Huateng, Tencent Holdings
- Robert Iger, Walt Disney
- Craig Jelinek, Costco
- Dave Lewis, Tesco
- Brian Moynihan, Bank of America
- Satya Nadella, Microsoft
- Shantanu Narayen, Adobe
- Larry Page, Alphabet
- Francois-Henri Pinault, Kering
- James Robo, NextEra Energy
- Stephen Schwarzman, BlackStone Group
- Arne Sorenson, Marriott International
- Jeffrey Sprecher, Intercontinental Exchange
- Jayshree Ullal, Arista Networks
- Lisa Su, Advanced Micro Devices
- Miles White, Abbott Laboratories
- Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Several reputed names such as James Gorman of Morgan Stanley, Frederick Smith of FedEx, Jensen Huang of Nvidia, and Phebe Novakovic of General Dynamics have been dropped off this year’s list as the growth in revenue and/or profit margins at their respective companies has slowed.
Aditya Puri of India’s HDFC Bank was dropped off the list because he is set to retire next year, and the bank hasn’t yet announced a successor. Puri has been the CEO of HDFC Bank since 1994. Since 2002, the HDFC Bank stock has shot up from INR 42 to above INR 2,400 under his leadership.
Notably, only two of the top 30 best chief executives are among the top 10 highest paid corporate executives. It means most of the CEOs in the above list don’t draw exorbitant salaries.