Degree of Difficulty: CEO Of The Year Criteria Explained

There is no such thing as an easy CEO job. However, there’s also no denying that some captains are hit with far more headwinds than others during their leadership tenures, notes Thomas J. Quinlan, CEO of LSC Communications and a longtime member of the CEO of the Year Selection Committee.

“Everyone sitting in the CEO chair faces some difficulties, whether it’s technical disruption or geopolitical or regulatory events; it just depends on the level,” he says. “But there’s no question that some situations—say, having pricing power with consumers or a helpful regulatory environment—can make continuing to perform well easier.”

Having the wind very much against your sails and rocks at every turn, on the other hand, makes setting and maintaining a strategic course all the more challenging and perilous. The leaders participating in the peer-driven CEO of the Year selection process understand that distinction and factor it into their deliberations when evaluating performance, notes Quinlan, who cites two recent CEOs of the year who faced an extraordinary degree of difficulty during their leadership tenures.

AT&T’s Randall Stephenson (2016): “In addition to the transformation he undertook, the political environment was such that CEOs were not highly valued in Washington at the time that he was going through that challenge,” says Quinlan. “Yet he managed a pretty seamless transition—and did so without a lot of fanfare.”

Walt Disney’s Bob Iger (2014): “When he came into the role, the Disney brand was not what it is today, plus the company was facing technology disruption,” notes Quinlan. “He was tasked with taking a brand that was being tarnished and bringing it back.”

Jennifer Pellet
As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.

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