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WHO’S THE BEST?: The usual knock on chief executive officers is that they are looking for, or too pressured to make, the quick kill — some action that will give an immediate kick to their company’s stock at the expense of longer-term objectives.
It’s an easy situation to disdain, but a hard one to fix with so many investors, or the robots in their employ, focused on short-term gains. As an antidote, or at least a step in the right direction, Harvard Business Review has suggested that big investors and activists look at stock performance during a ceo’s whole tenure to date and use that as the yardstick.
It’s a measure that works well for the late Apple Inc. chief Steve Jobs and Amazon.com head Jeffrey Bezos. They took the top two spots on the magazine’s list of The Best-Performing CEOs in the World, which appears in the January-February issue. The Review graded 3,143 ceo’s globally on three metrics: total shareholder return adjusted by country and by industry as well as change in market capitalization. The group was drawn from ceo’s who served for more than two years and started between 1995 and Aug. 31, 2010.
From 1997 to 2011, Jobs’ efforts helped push Apple’s total shareholder returns, by both measures, up more than 6,600 percent and added $359 billion in market cap. Since 1996, Amazon’s Bezos boosted shareholder returns by more than 12,000 percent and added $111 billion in market cap.
The Review emphasized that using stock performance was an objective, if incomplete, measure. “Granted, one downside of using truly objective measures is that our ranking may exclude ceo’s who have disappointed stakeholders on dimensions where performance is more subjective,” according to the accompanying article, written by Morten T. Hansen, Herminia Ibarra and Urs Peyer. “But even though ceo’s are held accountable in areas that shareholder performance cannot capture, it remains the principal standard by which they are judged.”
A number of fashion and retail bigwigs made the magazine’s top 100, including Simon Property Group Inc.’s David Simon (ranked as number 8), eBay Inc.’s former ceo Margaret Whitman (9), Coach Inc.’s Lew Frankfort (21), Inditex’s Pablo Isla (52), Christian Dior’s Sidney Toledano (tied for 68), Hermès International’s Patrick Thomas (72) and Nordstrom Inc.’s Blake Nordstrom (80).