The Best CEOs . . .

Most league tables are confusing, but to me the rankings of the best CEOs are both confusing and highly suspect.  CEO rankings seem to depend upon who is doing the ranking and more importantly the criteria used for judging.  For example, if you look at long-term growth in market capitalization, Steve Jobs is the modern day winner, and Jack Welch probably the winner for a past era.  And if you don’t like market cap growth, then rank them by compensation and you get a very different list, one where Warren Buffet isn’t even in the running.

In my mind most of the CEO ranking lists are based on things that don’t really matter, like media popularity, “most respected” by analysts, company size (not usually built by the incumbent CEO), public versus private, and any number of ways to carve up the list.

I’ve been thinking of a different way to rank, and rate CEOs, by asking the customer.  And just who, you are probably asking, is the customer of the CEO?  In my mind, it’s the management of the company.  It’s no different between a shoe company and those who buy its products.  The customer in this case is looking for many things; quality, service, consistency, value, a positive shopping experience, open and honest communications, openness to feedback and suggestions, etc.

The same in the relationship between the CEO and management.  To be productive, motivated and creative, managers need a CEO who gives open and honest communications, is consistent in her behaviour and interactions, develops productive management processes, provides a motivating work environment, is open to new ideas and suggestions, engenders trust and respect.  A CEO who is passionate about the wellbeing and productivity of his “customers”.

I’d like to see a scorecard where  management does the voting.  And while we are at it, lets make it a Balanced Scorecard.  Not just financial elements, lets also rate the CEO on other elements of a Balanced Scorecard, like Learning and Growth,  Internal Management Processes, Culture, Employee Satisfaction, Innovation and other meaningful elements of a productive and aligned workplace.

We call CEOs leaders and ask for better leadership, yet we tend to focus on financial results.   We’ve recently witnessed the trouble that an obsession with profit, EBITDA and other one-sided metrics brings.  If we hold CEOs to a higher and broader standard, we just might get better leadership at all levels.

You get what you measure.   – Peter Drucker

Tight Lines . . .

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to The Best CEOs . . .

  1. Tom Crane says:

    John – you have nailed it. Focusing on overall CEO performance will require of them, in the longer run, that CEO’s lift their sights to all of the factors that contribute to their organization’s performance. It’s the people, the culture, and the team of managers are the “first in line” customers. The financial outcomes are the natural result of the performance factors being healthy, aligned, and effectively engaged. Thanks for articulating so clearly what many of us would know to be intuitively true.


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