Primus Inter Pares
January 1 1989 by JP Donlon
Who is first among equals? With the new year begins our process of nominating and selecting 1989′s Chief Executive of the Year. Since we launched the award in 1986, it remains unique in that the process is completely peer driven. Please read and fill out the nominating ballot enclosed in this issue’s polybag. It’s directed only to you, our qualified readers who know and can best judge outstanding talent in another chief executive.
In playing the title role of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, Cornelia Otis Skinner received a telegram from the playwright: “Excellent, Greatest.” The actress cabled back: “Undeserving such praise.” Shaw sent another cable: “I meant the play.”
Miss Skinner replied: “So did I.” We offer five general criteria for you to consider, but the demands upon CEOs being what they are, you are free to interpret the criteria for achievement as you wish. It’s important therefore, for you to state the reasons for your choice as the judges who will meet in early Spring are highly influenced by what you say.
Let us clear up one point. At no time do we wish to imply that success is created by only one individual. All recipients have sensibly interpreted their honor as a symbol of collective accomplishment. As Emerson Electric’s Chuck Knight says, “Much of what we have in life comes from what others have done.” We reckon that the CEO is the standard bearer of his organization’s battle honors.
CE gathers the personal biographies and company financials for each of the 10 leading candidates you favor and presents them to our “college of cardinals,” the seven present and former CEOs who we have asked to discuss the merits of each finalist and decide the outcome. They are:
Peter T. Buchanan, President and Chief Executive, First Boston
Jerry D. Geist, Chairman, President and Chief Executive, Public Service Company of New Mexico
Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, President and Chief Executive, American International Group
Robert W. Lear, Executive-in-Residence, Columbia Business School, CE columnist, and former CEO, F&M Schaefer
J. Willard Marriott, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive, Marriott Corporation and last year’s award recipient
Russell E. Palmer, Dean, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and former CEO, Touche Ross
Charles S. Sanford, Jr., Chairman and Chief Executive, Bankers TrustAny current chief executive of a for-profit enterprise whose annual revenues are at least $250 million is eligible. To assist you, we’ve listed (alphabetically by company) almost 1,400 CEOs of public and private firms. If you or your candidate aren’t listed, please forgive the oversight-but do vote.