Up to Standard

Don’t forget to fill out your nomination for Chief Executive of the Year. The nominating ballot is in the polybag [...]

January 1 1996 by JP Donlon


Don’t forget to fill out your nomination for Chief Executive of the Year. The nominating ballot is in the polybag in which this issue was mailed to you. Your voice is critical. Each year, we solicit nominations from our readers, asking them to select a current CEO who has demonstrated outstanding leadership performance and accomplishments. As we enter our second decade of this award, we aim to ensure that all deserving and qualified candidates have a chance to be considered. Nominees must be current CEOs of for-profit enterprises with at least $500 million in annual revenue. They should excel in any of several areas, including managing technological innovation, turning around an ailing enterprise, demonstrating superior competitiveness in world markets, or simply best managing a company for period of at least five years.

The names of the 10 most frequently nominated individuals will be forwarded to our selection committee, which will meet in early April to discuss and decide the winner. In each of the past 10 years, our College of Cardinals has leaned heavily on the reasons readers put forward in their nominations. So your vote counts.

Members of the 1996 Executive of the Year Selection Committee are: 1995 Chief Executive of the Year David D. Glass, Wal-Mart; Donald R. Beall, Rockwell International; M. Anthony Burns, Ryder System; Roberto C. Goizueta, Coca-Cola; Frank C. Herringer, Transamerica; Edward C. Johnson III, FMR; Charles R. LaMantia, Arthur D. Little; Robert W. Lear, CE/Columbia Graduate School of Business; David A. Olsen, Johnson & Higgins; and Eckhard Pfeiffer, Compaq Computer.

We created this award to honor exemplary CEO leaders. Since it is decided by the honoree’s peers and not by us, he or she serves as a beacon of excellence for other CEOs who also face difficult challenges. Each of the last 10 award recipients has served as the honorary chairman of the selection committee the following year and delivered the accolade at the celebratory dinner in July.

Occasionally, our award leads to bigger things. When Microsoft’s Bill Gates was honored as Chief Executive of the Year two years ago, he met the previous year’s honoree, Jack Welch. Each had long admired the other, but had heretofore never met. One can speculate that the warm friendship struck that evening under the Chief Executive banner led to the recent Microsoft-CNBC multimedia deal.

Although our annual award celebrates what amounts to economic achievement, we recognize that CEOs, like other mortals, are not merely homo economicus. What drives people to do what they do is as much spiritual as economic. Since most CEOs earn enough to satisfy immediate wants, they generally act more from other impulses than merely to amass wealth. Contributing Editor Joseph McCarthy’s feature on the spiritual side of business leaders examines a side of CEO life not commonly discussed. Detractors may dismiss the notion of a spiritually driven CEO as an oxymoron. In the popular imagination, CEOs fire thousands of blameless ordinary men and women, yet pay themselves bigger salaries and bonuses. Interestingly, more than half the past 10 Chief Executives of the Year reported that they felt the ethical-spiritual dimension of their job was a key factor in their achievements. In fact, some judges at different times over the last 10 years of choosing a Chief Executive of the Year have suggested that we formally use this yardstick in measuring a candidate’s suitability.

Is such a standard practical or out of date? I am reminded of the conversation between two characters in Alan Bennett’s play, “Forty Years On,” in which the first says, “Have you ever thought, Headmaster, that your standards might be a little out of date?”

The headmaster replies, “Of course they’re out of date. Standards are always out of date. That is what makes them standards.”