Primer Inter Pares

Earlier this year we asked readers to identify a fellow CEO worthy to be named this year’s Chief Executive of [...]

June 1 1998 by JP Donlon


Earlier this year we asked readers to identify a fellow CEO worthy to be named this year’s Chief Executive of the Year. It is an opportunity to recognize a respected colleague’s leadership and exemplary achievement.

Since 1986 we have sought your help in selecting someone who, by virtue of this distinguished honor, becomes a beacon of excellence for others. He or she must be a current CEO of a for-profit enterprise with annual turnover of at least $500 million or the equivalent in assets for a financial institution.

The 10 most frequently nominated persons are reviewed by a panel of peers (see page 8), all of whom are present or former CEOs. Since its inception, the award has sought to honor what is best in business leadership. We ask readers to recognize a peer both for the performance delivered to share holders and customers and the visions and values he or she imparts to others. In forming a judgment we ask if the candidate has excelled in any of five general areas:

  • Demonstrating leadership skills that enabled his or her company to compete successfully in international markets.
  • Reinvigorating a mature company; exceeding industry norms for financial performance, and delivering value for shareholders and customers.
  • Turning around an ailing enterprise.          
  • Implementing technological innovation.
  • Skillfully guiding a company through good times and bad and demonstrating excellence under varying market conditions.

Nearly 100 names were submitted representing 16 different industry sectors. The 10 finalists (see box) fall into interesting subsets: traditional manufacturing, banking and finance, consumer products, entertainment/leisure, and the biggest category: technology. AlliedSignal’s Larry Bossidy, Compaq’s Eckhard Pfeiffer, Disney’s Michael Eisner, and IBM‘s Lou Gerstner are returning finalists.

Some candidates invite comparisons, such as competitors Compaq and Dell, world class manufacturers Allied Signal and Dana, and financial acquisitors NationsBank and Travelers. (Both Hugh McColl and Sandy Weill were nominated before their respective merger deals with BankAmerica and Citicorp were announced.) John Chambers’s supporters see Cisco as a leader in the so-called “new economy,” which is at the crossroads of several important information-based industries. Those who advocate August Busch argue that Anheuser-Busch is rapidly becoming a world leader in an industry that may not be fashionable, but is nonetheless highly innovative. With the possible exception of Cisco and Dell, each of the 10 has witnessed down market conditions as well as strong ones.

Upon reviewing the background and performance of the finalists our “college of cardinals” meets and decides the winner. The selection will be our next issue’s cover feature.