Primus Inter Pares

Choosing a Chief Executive of the Year is not easy, even for CEOs. Each year, we ask our CEO and [...]

July 1 1992 by JP Donlon


Choosing a Chief Executive of the Year is not easy, even for CEOs. Each year, we ask our CEO and president readers to nominate individuals who have distinguished themselves in any of five areas. The 10 most frequently nominated are considered by a panel of present and former CEOs (see photo below), who review the performance of the 10 finalists and meet in April to discuss and select the winner.

This year’s selection committee consisted of PepsiCo’s Wayne Calloway; Thomas S. Johnson, former president, Manufacturers Hanover; Robert W. Lear, former chief executive, F & M Schaefer; Westinghouse Electric’s Paul E. Lego; William E. Mayer, former dean, William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Rochester; Data General’s Ronald Skates; Dial’s John W. Teets; and Prudential Insurance’s Robert C. Winters.

In the seven years of its existence, the selection process has generally favored those whose company performance is sustained over a five- to 10-year period. But many finalists have exceeded the performance of the award winner himself. What other criteria, then, do CEOs use in separating the stellar performers from their more ordinary peers?

Also among the measures used to select a Chief Executive of the Year is the degree of managerial difficulty-in terms of both the size and scope of a contender’s company and the complexity of his industry. (e.g. How well does a company compete in global markets?) Some argue this favors large firms over small, but this is countered, to some degree, by the personal contribution factor. To what extent does the company’s achievement reflect the CEO’s personal leadership and effort-or has the business been on a roll lately? CEOs of smaller companies certainly can place their imprint on an organization more quickly than those who manage corporate giants.

In the end, when the judges are faced with two, three, or sometimes four candidates of equal ability, they must sift through the intangibles of character, personal integrity, and values. This is why most CE award winners come from companies that exhibit a strong esprit de corps together with a bias toward action.

The final choice is very close. As one of our panel said, “We could readily pick any one of these finalists and be content.”