Rex Tillerson, CEO, ExxonMobil
You’d think becoming leader of the world’s biggest oil company would be hard to top. Not so for ExxonMobil’s Rex Tillerson, who’s on the cusp of becoming America’s first CEO Secretary of State, partly owing to Donald Trump’s penchant for shirking the establishment when forming his inner circle. Tillerson heads a list of business personalities chosen to grace the president-elect’s Cabinet, including CKE Restaurant’s Andy Puzder, World Wrestling Entertainment’s Linda McMahon and former Goldman Sachs partner Steven Mnuchin.
Tatsumi Kimishima, President, Nintendo
Could this man be Nintendo’s savior? Tatsumi Kimishima has certainly taken the Japanese gaming giant in the right direction since replacing the late Satoru Iwata in mid-2015. Much of the company’s improving fortunes have been tied to the success of augmented reality game Pokemon GO—which started as an April Fools joke conjured by Iwata and others at the company shortly before his untimely death. Kimishima has helped bring the immensely popular game to reality, along with the help of its developer, Niantic. His next big test will be overseeing the release this year of the company’s new NX gaming console.
Jamie Dimon, CEO, JPMorgan Chase
It’s been a very busy, successful year for the head of America’s biggest retail bank. Not only was Dimon rumored to have turned down an invite to be Treasury Secretary, he also was selected to head CEO peer group Business Roundtable and was included in Donald Trump’s 19-member economic advisory council. Dimon has largely been credited for steering JPMorgan through the financial crisis without posting a single loss. The bank’s most recent quarterly results exceeded market expectations and its share price has jumped more than 30% this year, outpacing an 11% rise in the benchmark S&P 500.
Randall Stephenson, CEO, AT&T
Whether AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner is approved by regulators or not, the agreed merger is certainly a bold move by a man who was, in July, named Chief Executive’s 2016 CEO of the Year. The judging panel largely praised Stephenson’s successful guidance of the telecom company through several major technological shifts. Few industries are more vulnerable to disruption, and Time Warner promises to diversify AT&T’s revenue streams through the ownership of media assets, including the CNN television network.
Lars Sørensen, CEO, Novo Nordisk
Also triumphant on the awards circuit this year was Lars Sørensen, the head of Danish drug maker Novo Nordisk, whom Harvard ranked as the world’s best-performing CEO for the second year running.
John Christmann, CEO, Apache Energy
Few phenomenon in business capture investors’ imaginations better than a gushing oil well. And that’s just what John Christmann had to offer Apache Energy shareholders after the company struck black gold in September. The discovery of the so-called Alpine High resource in Texas came after Christmann spent two years acquiring acreage and exploring what was a previously-neglected area, showing the value of investing in places where others had feared to tread. Apache shares are up about 50% for the year, buoyed by its estimate the resource holds at least 3 billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion feet of natural gas.
Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway
It seems any annual winners’ list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the name Warren Buffett, whose appearance most years could almost be considered assumed knowledge. Even at the age of 86, Buffett still had the energy—and commanded the respect—to draw tens of thousands of investors to Omaha, Nebraska for the company’s annual meeting, even though the event was live-streamed this year for the first time in history. Berkshire Hathaway stock is up 26% for the year and has more than doubled in value over the past five, continuing the stellar performance that has earned the “Oracle of Omaha” his nickname.
John Stumpf, former CEO, Wells Fargo
Like a car crash in slow motion, this fall from grace was hard to watch. Initially, John Stumpf, previously considered to be one of America’s best CEOs, tried to place responsibility for the shocking fake accounts revelations on lower-ranked employees. It was this embarrassing lack of accountability that was largely behind his downfall, which only came after two humiliating grillings on Capitol Hill and an unprecedented move by the bank to claw back $41 million worth of his uninvested options. The scandal also made 2016 a bad year for the combined CEO-chairman model, which could come under more pressure in 2017, thanks to Wells Fargo’s antics.
Matt Harrigan, former CEO, Packetsled
The election of a politician as divisive as Donald Trump raised questions about how much CEOs should display their disappointment or jubilation to staff. But few would disagree that threatening to kill the president-elect probably took things a tad too far. Matt Harrigan, the founder of cybersecurity company Packetsled, made the the election night threat to shoot Trump with a sniper rifle on his Facebook account. Going on to describe the threat as a “flawed joke” didn’t stop him from having to resign.
The dual-CEO model
Yes, having two heads allows companies to divvy up tasks to play to each leaders’ individual strengths. But it also can be a recipe for conflict. Just ask two of America’s biggest food retailers, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Whole Foods Market, which both dumped their dual CEO-models within a few months of one another. And let’s not forget Swiss luxury goods company Richemont, which went one better and jettisoned both its CEOs without replacing either. The pressure is is now on Oracle, which appears to be one of the few remaining large companies left carrying the dual-CEO torch.
Michael Pearson, former CEO, Valeant Pharmaceuticals
Pharmaceutical CEOs everywhere were arguably the real losers after a small band of drug companies brought scorn on the whole industry by gouging the price of sometimes life-saving treatments. Among them was Valeant Pharmaceuticals, whose leader, Michael Pearson, resigned in March after the Canadian company admitted “improper conduct” by senior management caused it to misstate its financial results.
Heather Bresch, CEO, Mylan
An honorable mention here goes to Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, who, during a Congressional hearing, falsely stated the profit the company made after it increased the price of its Epipen injection product six-fold.
Philippe Dauman, former CEO, Viacom
Loyalty, while highly valued, is no substitute for blood in a family business. At least that’s what former Viacom CEO Phillippe Dauman discovered when he was unceremoniously booted from the media giant controlled by 93-year-old billionaire Sumner Redstone. Despite being Redstone’s friend and close confidant for around 30 years, Viacom’s board in August voted to eject Dauman after he had already been exiled by Redstone and removed from the family trust. The falling out came as Redstone’s once-estranged daughter Shari started spending more time with her father and taking an interest in his business affairs.
Roger Ailes, former CEO, Fox News
It was a big year for CEO sex scandals, though few were more disruptive than the one involving cable-TV news supremo and Rupert Murdoch ally Roger Ailes. To this day, Ailes denies an accusation by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson that he threatened to sabotage her career if she rejected his sexual advances, as well as harassment accusations by other staffers, including Megyn Kelly. Ailes’ departure was announced just two weeks after Carlson filed the lawsuit, which was settled for a reported $20 million.
Darren Huston, former CEO, Priceline Group
An honorable mention here goes to Huston, who resigned in March after it was brought to the board’s attention that he was having an affair with an employee.