“The leaders on our 2019 list have prospered by outperforming their peers over the long term- both financially and on increasingly important environmental, social, and governance measures,” said Harvard Business Review Editor in Chief Adi Ignatius.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on October 25, 2019

Jen-Hsun Huang, who has been CEO of graphics-processor designers NVIDIA for 26 years, is the Harvard Business Review 2019 best-performing CEO in the S&P Global 1200.

Taiwan-born Jen-Hsun Huang founded NVIDIA on his 30th birthday in 1993 and has been CEO and President ever since. NVIDIA, based in Santa Clara, California, employed 13,227 people in January this year. It had a revenue of US$11.78 billion in 2018.

Harvard Business Review Jen Hsun Huang

NVIDIA originally focused on graphics for gaming applications and has since expanded into Artificial Intelligence (AI) chips for autonomous vehicles, robots, drone aircraft, and dozens of other high-tech tools.

“The company’s financial performance — its stock grew 14-fold from late 2015 to late 2018 — and strong environmental, social, and governance (ESG) rating put Huang on top, Harvard Business Review said in a press release.

NVIDIA has seen its shares jump nearly 1,000% over the past five years and 37% this year. Jen-Hsun Huang currently holds US$3.7 billion in company stock.

Following behind Huang in second place on the Harvard Business Review’s 2019 ranking of the 100 best-performing CEOs in the S&P Global 1200 is Marc Benioff, co-CEO of Salesforce, and François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering.

San-Francisco-based Salesforce is the cloud-based software company pioneer that started 20 years ago. Revenue grew from US$8.4 billion in the 2017 financial year to US$13.3 billion in January 2019. Salesforce is expected to continue growing revenue at 20%.

Harvard Business Review Marc Benioff

Benioff founded Salesforce in his San Francisco apartment in 1999. Just a year later, with his company growing, he established the nonprofit Salesforce Foundation and invented the 1-1-1 philanthropic model, pledging 1% of Salesforce’s equity, product and employee time to the foundation. It is a framework that hundreds of companies around the world now use. Benioff has a personal fortune valued at US$6.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Benioff released his fourth book, Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change, was published this month. Co-authored with former Wall Street Journal reporter and Salesforce executive vice president Monica Langley, the 272-page book lays out Benioff’s journey, from growing up among the movers and shakers of San Francisco, to becoming a philanthropic leader.

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François-Henri Pinault, who became chairman and CEO in March 2005, turned the French international company PPR into a major luxury fashion brand and changed the company’s name to Kering in June 2013. Its portfolio is centred on leather-goods, shoes, ready-to-wear, watches and jewellery and owns labels such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Brioni, Christopher Kane and Pomellato.

Kering today announced in the third quarter, Gucci’s sales grew 10.7% on a comparable basis to €2.4 billion (US$2.7 billion), with the vast majority of that growth coming from the Asia Pacific region. The gains topped many analysts’ expectations, though they were a far cry from the boom years of 2017 and 2018, when sales soared by nearly 30% annually. Overall, Kering’s total revenue grew 11.6 percent to €3.9 billion (US$4.3 billion) in the quarter.

Harvard Business Review François Henri Pinault

Harvard Business Review’s 2019 best-performing CEO in the S&P Global 1200, which appears in Harvard Business Review’s November-December issue, is different from other leader rankings in that it measures performance for the entire length of a chief executive’s tenure.

“The leaders on our 2019 list have prospered by outperforming their peers over the long term—both financially and on increasingly important environmental, social, and governance measures,” said HBR Editor in Chief Adi Ignatius.

To compile the ranking, HBR looked at CEOs of the S&P Global 1200 who’d been in the job for at least two years, and calculated overall shareholder return and increase in market capitalisation over their entire tenure. It also factored in ratings of ESG performance provided by two firms, CSRHub and Sustainalytics. This year HBR increased the weight given to ESG from 20% to 30% to reflect the fact that a rapidly growing number of funds and individuals now focus on far more than bottom-line metrics when they make investment decisions. The financial ranking was weighted at 70%.

One casualty of the change in ESG weighting was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Based on financial performance alone, Bezos has been the top-performing leader since 2014. However, he failed to make this year’s list owing to Amazon’s relatively low ESG scores. According to Sustainalytics, those scores reflect risks created by working conditions and employment policies, data security, and antitrust issues, Harvard Business Review stated.

Four female CEOs made the ranking. Nancy McKinstry of Wolters Kluwer (16), Lisa Su of Advanced Micro Devices (26), Debra Cafaro of Ventas (29), and Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, which is an increase from three in 2018. Of the 876 companies whose CEOs were eligible for the list, just 34 — or 4% — were led by female CEOs.

“There are far too few women in global CEO roles and that needs to change,” said Ignatius. “While there is no one solution to the problem, we recently published research that found that board experience is helping women get CEO jobs, which suggests one concrete pathway to increasing the ranks of women CEOs. As a publisher we’ll continue to shine light on research and best practices for dismantling barriers to gender equality and advancing women to the highest level of corporate leadership.”

The CEOs on the Harvard Business Review 2019 ranking display remarkable longevity, having held their jobs for an average of 15 years, more than twice the average tenure of an S&P 500 CEO.

*Pablo Isla, of Inditex, named the Harvard Business Review best-performing CEO in the S&P Global 1200 in 2018, moved from CEO to chairman.