A Harvard Business Review article just listed 50 ‘best performing’ CEOs. Not surprisingly the authors based their evaluation on shareholder value creation. This group of execs are truly superstars having created on average almost a 1000% increase in shareholder value.
Steve Jobs was number one in this study’s list. Without a doubt, history will remember Jobs as a business genius based on his marketing acumen and his ability to create stockholder value. But I have also admired his performance at Apple based on his ability to move us from a carbon-centric music world, where our music was delivered at stores by trucks in the form of records and CDs in packaging of paper and plastic. The emergence of iPhone apps that can monitor and manage energy consumption offers a glimpse into the link between “smart” electronics and sustainability.
So this begs the question: what would a list of top ten CEOs be like if we judged them based upon their positive contribution toward both a sustainable economy and environment? And what should the selection criteria be for this envisioned top ten sustainable CEOs?
Many of my business friends, most especially CFOs, would be suspicious of this topic. The responsibility, per articles of incorporation, of a company’s officers is strictly fiduciary. At the same time, companies I profiled in The Secret Green Sauce are growing revenues even in this tough economy and realizing their fiduciary responsibilities while still aligning value with values. So, does having a focus upon fiduciary responsibility to the stockholder preclude, or enable, the adoption of sustainability?
Andy Price, a managing partner at the energy and technology executive search firm Schweichler Price & Partners, has thoughts on how CEOs, and the officers that report to CEOs, are viewing sustainability. His perspective is that corporations are adopting sustainability as a path toward increasing revenues and lowering costs.
The CEOs and senior officers I work with are gearing sustainability toward the realization of their profit goals,” Price explains. “I don’t see a role like Chief Sustainability Officer being so much a position within the C-suite, but rather [I see] existing officers like the COO and CFO incorporating sustainability as a good business practice that enables the realization of profit goals.”
Price’s observations align with market research that identifies the emergence of the “Sustainable CEO.” These CEOs have set emission reductions targets but they also require that these performance results be achieved within the financial disciplines of their company, such as return on investment and payback periods. The end result is the harvesting of actions that both reduce emissions and enhance profitability.
So who are your top ten Sustainable CEOs, who are achieving both superior shareholder value and leadership results in restoring our environment and addressing social ills? Make your suggestions by submitting a comment to this article with the name of the CEO, his or her company and why you think he or she is a top ten Sustainable CEO. On January 15, I will compile your replies into a follow-up posting that will be forwarded onto the Harvard Business Review.