A longtime tech CEO tops Harvard Business Review’s 2019 ranking of the 100 best-performing CEOs in the S&P Global 1200—and it’s not who you might think. Jensen Huang, CEO of the U.S. technology company NVIDIA, moved into the #1 spot for the first time this year after ranking #2 in 2018.
Huang co-founded the California-based NVIDIA in 1993 at the age of 30. Originally focused on graphics chips for gaming, NVIDIA has since expanded into 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.
Following behind Huang in the #2 and #3 spots are Marc Benioff of Salesforce and François-Henri Pinault of Kering. (Last year’s #1, Pablo Isla of Inditex, moved from CEO to chairman, taking him out of consideration.)
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 capitalization 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%. (Read more about the methodology here.)
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.
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 (#37)—up from three in 2018. The underrepresentation of women on the list reflects the overwhelming scarcity of women at the helm of public companies. Of the 876 companies whose CEOs were eligible for the list, just 34—or 4%—were led by female executives.
The list, which appears in HBR’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 CEOs on this year’s ranking display remarkable longevity: They’ve held their jobs for an average of 15 years, more than twice the average tenure of an S&P 500 CEO.