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I’ve Got A Little List

“I was the toast of two continents,” quipped Dorothy Parker about her fame, “Greenland and Australia.” Chief executives are hardly household names but reputations travel. As ballots continue to pour in at press time for 1989’s Chief Executive of the Year, the most frequently nominated include:

·               James Bere/Borg Warner (automotive)

·               August Busch/Anheuser-Busch (beverages)

·               Stanley Gault/Rubbermaid (consumer products)

·               Charles Harper/ConAgra (food processing)

·               Warren McCain/Albertson’s (retailing)

·               Hugh McColl/NCNB (banking)

·               John McConnell/ Worthington Industries (metals, plastics)

·               Donald Petersen/ Ford Motor Company (automobiles)

Philip Morris’ Hamish Maxwell, Merck’s Roy Vagelos, Nordstrom’s Bruce Nordstrom, Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca, Sun Trust’s Robert Strickland and Black and Decker’s Noland Archibald are in a tight six-way race for the last two places on the list of finalists. On April 21, the selection committee will meet in New York to review the 10 leading candidates and select the Chief Executive of the Year.

Chief Executive neither nominates nor votes. As the business school types would say, the process is peer-driven. To ensure balance and fresh thinking, we rotate approximately one third of the judges each year and invite new blood.

From its inception, last year’s award recipient becomes this year’s honorary chairman of the selection committee. Bill Marriott, 1988 Chief Executive of the Year, will deliver the accolade to this year’s winner and, in effect, pass the baton of excellence to his successor.

In guiding readers in making their nominations, we offer five general areas to consider: Worldwide competitiveness, turnaround of an ailing company, reinvigorating a mature (read stodgy) company, managing for technological innovation, and overall managerial excellence over a five-year period. Note the emphasis on creating long-term value over short-term financial performance. Unlike some CEO awards, ours does not depend on number crunching. Besides, each year’s finalists invariably have glowing financials.

There is no single overall theme that emerges from a reading of the hundreds of nominations received. Phrases such as “vision,” “leadership,” and “integrity” are frequently used.


Some of you have written about our long list of candidates printed with the nominating ballot as an aide memoire. We intended to include all independent companies, public and private, with revenue of at least $250 million (the cut-off size as determined by our judges). If we omitted you and your company, we apologize, and ask that you write and tell us because we want you to be on our list. There are two women CEOs among the 1,400 we listed and we’re sorry we didn’t list Linda Wachner of Warnaco as one of them. Maybe one day we’ll have a woman chief executive of the year?

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