The four CEOs to watch in 2012 include:
Tim Cook of Apple
The fellow will be ceaselessly compared to his predecessor Steve Jobs and no living person can hope to be compared to a deceased Saint because, as with all Saints, Jobs’s shortcomings are increasingly being forgotten. In 2012, Apple is facing its stiffest competition in its two major products, tablets and smartphones. Unlike Jobs, Cook is not known as a product guy. What gets lost in the adulation of Steve Jobs is that Apple had scores of executives, designers and talented engineers that made Jobs look good. Cook’s challenge will be to keep all this high level talent from bolting. Many of these folks were mesmerized by Steve’s charisma –something Cook acknowledges he doesn’t have.
Meg Whitman of HP
Whitman comes to a company that has seen three CEOs come and go over a very short span. She is an experienced service CEO in a company that has traditionally been known for its hardware. There’s a lot on the line for both the company and the person. Whitman had a brilliant six initial years with eBay followed by an indifferent four years before she left in 2008. Some argue that in that last four years she stumbled with the Skype acquisition which was later sold to Microsoft, and she missed an opportunity to take on Amazon. The biggest concern is whether she is up to the challenge of getting buy-in from an increasingly surly and skeptical executive class at HP. She had a reputation for arrogance gained during her political campaign for governor of California, dressing down people who disagreed with her. She’s a highly talented executive, facing a high-wire act with a highly visible company.
Ginny Rometty of IBM
The former SVP of sales is a very safe bet to succeed Sam Palmisano. Her success tenure will largely depend on how well she guides IBM’s channel partners into the cloud-computing era. Many IBM partners sell IBM servers to mid-market customers and that model will have to change as hardware becomes less important and IBM itself focuses more on cloud services. Does she merely continue Palmisano’s policies or will she strike out with something bolder? Because she is the first woman CEO to run the iconic company–for better or worse–the entire world will be watching her every move.
Ron Johnson of JCPenney
Every retailer has been brought low by internet retailing. So outgoing CEO Mike Ullman picked Apple’s former head of its retail units to reinvigorate the 106 year old grand dame of big box retailing. Ron brought in some fairly talented people such as Michael Frances of Target to be his president. He penned a deal with Martha Stewart Living to bring in power brands and big names to the stores. Will this be the right ticket?
And one more CEO “to ponder”
My fifth pick is less a CEO to watch than an ex CEO to ponder. It isn’t always that a CEO blows the whistle on corrupt management and a board–it usually works the other way. But indeed, Michael Woodford did just that when he discovered peculiar accounting practices at Japan’s Olympus. Many are watching if he will be asked to return to clean-up Dodge.