World's Best CEOs - Jeff Bezos Named No. 1

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, is the world’s best brand guardian, according to the latest report by Brand Finance, the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy.

Bezos ranks first among top 100 CEOs, with a Brand Guardianship Index score of 72.4. The ranking is extracted from the Brand Finance Global 500 2019 report on the world’s most valuable brands, set to be released on 22nd January at a World Economic Forum event in Davos discussing the role of CEOs in shaping brands and reputation.

CEO of Japanese carmaker Toyota, Akio Toyoda has survived the very public reputational disaster in 2010 as a result of faulty accelerator pedals linked to dozens of deaths and injuries. Toyoda was slammed for his handling of the safety scandal and cited as a poor brand guardian but has now, 9 years on, been ranked as the world’s second-best CEO with a Brand Guardianship Index score of 71.6 out of 100. Having admitted his mistakes in public hearings and through adopting a crisis communications strategy, the grandson of Toyota’s founder has reclaimed favour amongst his key stakeholders.

Amongst the top 100 CEOs, tech corporations Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Google and Facebook all feature within the top 20. Apple's CEO Tim Cook ranks as the top of the tech tycoons and ranked at 4th place. He is credited with successfully building upon the Apple reputation and legacy left by Steve Jobs, and establishing his own highly effective business model. Instead of investing in the best new technology, Cook buys stocks, accumulates cash and pays out dividends.

Search engine giant Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai, ranked 13th, with a Brand Guardianship Index score of 57.7 out of 100, saw his reputation severely dented since his first appearance in Congress. Google has had a turbulent 2018; battling employee walkouts as a result of accusations that management shielded executives involved in sexual misconduct and being slapped with a US$5.0bn fine from the European Union for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.

In contrast, fellow Silicon Valley giant, Facebook, has perhaps had a more tumultuous past year, reflected in the 16th place ranking of CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a subsequent 56.7 out of 100 score. Shares of the social network tumbled as Facebook faced a barrage of attacks about ways in which the platform was manipulated to spread false information and for Zuckerberg’s insufficient and controversial responses to these very public misgivings. Despite repeated calls to remove him from his dual role as Chairman and CEO, Facebook's board of directors remain powerless; which has effectively triggered a cycle of mostly negative media coverage for Zuckerberg.

Based on the world’s top companies by portfolio brand value, the new Brand Guardianship Index rates CEOs to capture how well they measure up as brand managers and ambassadors. Similar to its Brand Strength Index, Brand Finance’s new metric scored 0-100 considers multiple inputs reflecting CEOs’ success in marketing investment, stakeholder equity, and business performance.

IBM’s Ginni Rometty in the top 10 although only 3 women make the ranking
A mere 3 female CEOs make the rankings, with IBM’s Ginni Rometty (6) firmly in the top 10 with an index score of 64.7 out of 100. General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra (39) and KPMG CEO Lynne Doughtie (73) are also leading the charge amongst their male counterparts. The number of women leading the largest companies has always been small. Out of the Fortune 500 companies, women CEOs number just 24, down from 32 a year ago. The debate around why there are fewer women CEOs, and whether having a gender quota in place is actually effective, is still an ongoing discussion amongst policymakers and corporates in boardrooms across the globe.

Breakdown of top CEOs by company’s country of incorporation
The Brand Guardianship Index is made up of 100 CEOs representing a variety of industries and countries, with 37% leading US-based companies and 22% coming from China. This is a testament to the business acumen of Chinese CEOs who are rising above the parapet of their European counterparts, particularly when navigating such a large domestic market and global expansion against the backdrop of regulatory burden.

Brand Finance’s Brand Guardianship Index hones in on a group with strong performance but low investment; the several Chinese CEOs in the ranking – such as Robin Li (Baidu), Qingping Li (China CITIC Bank), Pony Ma (Tencent), Peter Mingzhe (PingAn), and Daniel Yong (Alibaba). Robin Li of Chinese software giant Baidu leads the charge for Chinese CEOs, ranked 5th place with a score of 64.7 out of 100. As Chinese baijiu spirit brands become popular outside of China, it is notable that Wuliangye CEO Zhongguo Liu is ranked amongst the world’s top 10 CEOs, with a CEO Brand Guardianship Index score of 62.5 out of 100.

World’s longest-serving CEOs
The tenure of CEOs has also been taken into account when preparing the Brand Guardianship Index ranking. The world’s third most reputable CEO, Bernard Arnault of Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, (LVMH) has been leading the French luxury goods conglomerate for the last 30 years. Arnault receives a CEO Brand Guardianship Index score of 68.4 out of 100 and has earned the respect of his staff and senior leadership team who praise him for his sharp focus on financial controls and ability to make intelligent appointments. However, Softbank’s Masayoshi Son is the longest-serving CEO in the ranking, having managed the brand since its foundation in 1981. Meanwhile, Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi, having only taken the reigns at the cab-booking app in late 2017, has, in such a short span of time, also forged a reputation as a trusted leader, ranked 38th with a Brand Guardianship Index score of 50.1 out of 100. Khosrowshahi was tasked with rebuilding Uber’s reputation following a string of scandals.

Johnson & Johnson weather the storm
Holding a CEO Brand Guardianship Index score of 53.0 out of 100, the United States based pharmaceutical and consumer products company, Johnson & Johnson, saw their CEO Alex Gorsky ranked 26th in the Brand Finance Brand Guardianship Index league table. This suggests a strong CEO able to hold their own in the face of challenges, especially those posed recently by the talcum powder asbestos scandal and subsequent global apology issued by Gorsky. The brand was hit by a US$50.0bn drop in market value of the company stock, however the response provided by its CEO proved enough to weather the storm and regain brand trust in the face of such a public reputational crisis.

The full list will be released on 22nd January at a World Economic Forum event in Davos.