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Angel Cabrera
Academic President

The Best Executives

Question: If there were a Nobel Prize for Leadership, what would the criteria be and who would you nominate?

The global financial crisis of 2008 provided painful evidence of the enormous responsibility business leaders hold, not only within their companies, but in society at large. Managers have incredible power to create or destroy value, and in so doing, affect the lives of millions of people.

A Nobel Prize for Global Leadership could help celebrate extraordinary individuals from large-scale business or social organizations who serve as role models and inspire millions of future executives and entrepreneurs to contribute to the greater good.

Criteria for this award should include, at least:

-- Strong ethical values in word and deed

-- A commitment to long-term value creation

-- Outstanding creativity, innovative spirit and execution capability

-- Global impact

-- An active engagement in tackling some of the most pressing global challenges of our time

A good initial candidate list from the U.S. could include individuals like Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Chairman of the Carlson Companies; the CEOs of Fluor, Alan Boeckmann, or CH2MHILL, Lee McIntire; Microsoft founder Bill Gates; former Intel chairman Craig Barrett; former Coca-Cola CEO Neville Isdell; WalMart CEO Michael Duke; Goldman Sach's Lloyd Blankfein and many others.

The choice would inevitably be controversial, just like the Peace Prize tends to be. The bar for the award should be high by definition, and no winner can possibly achieve a perfect score. But the timing of the choices can help send a strong message around the world: Society expects a lot from those who are given the privilege to lead.

By Angel Cabrera

 |  October 14, 2009; 5:35 AM ET
Category:  Leadership personalities Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: No Prize for Norwegians | Next: Nominee: White House Usher


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Nobody from the US until we get our financial house in order. Finding anyone with the first two values would rule most US CEOs out anyway. How does one define "value creation" anyway? Value for whom (in deference to the cranky grammarian above)? Qualify "Global Impact" with the phrase "that causes no harm to the environment and improves the lives of human beings living in poverty." Nice sentiments, but too vague as laid out in the initial posting.

Posted by: Journalista | October 15, 2009 10:45 AM
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Sam Palmisano, CEO of IBM is clearly the right person for this recognition. Not only committed to the long term success of the company, its employees and shareholders, Palmisano refused a multimillion dollar bonus when he first became CEO, and insisted the money be redistributed to employees who had made a demonstrable contribution to the success of the company that year.

Posted by: sigdc | October 15, 2009 5:38 AM
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I would nominate Warren E. Buffett, Chairman of the Board & CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Corporation.

Posted by: dldavy | October 14, 2009 11:21 PM
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Are you kidding me - a prize for CEOs? These guys, good or bad, are already so overpaid. How can you reward them even more?

Posted by: harrumph1 | October 14, 2009 11:12 PM
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The question presents an oxymoron. By definition, a CEO is not a sweet team player who promotes the common good.

Steve Jobs may work for a dollar a year, but he's a ruthless competitor. Warren Buffett may be one of the most sensible people in public life, but he's made his money on an insurer -- GEICO -- that long ago abandoned its so-called values. Bill Gates joins the ranks of Fords and Rockefellers who seek social redemption with blood money.

I did think of all these, and of others, who had secured employees decent health insurance, child care, education, and other opportunities. It's not that they're bad people -- some of them are particularly strong on one or more of your criteria.

But fundamentally, "long-term value creation" undermines the others.

Posted by: thmas | October 14, 2009 10:26 PM
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TWO nominees...

Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, for his tireless and continuing attempts to raise public awareness of social issues.


Bill Gates, for his establishment of the results-oriented grant system he uses at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has already done more for the poor and uneducated people of this planet than every other public company in the USA combined have done in the same period of time.

Gates comes second to Cohen though, because of Microsoft caving in to government pressure and allowing the NSAKEY backdoor encryption key to be inserted into Windows by the American NSA.


Posted by: lee8798 | October 14, 2009 9:28 PM
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Easy, John Chambers! Not only did he do everything in his power not to do massive layoffs, or implement rounds of paycuts, he, along with the other senior executives, fought to provide their employees with bonuses for all of their hard work to the meet the goals they had layed out for the year.

Posted by: sanmateo1850 | October 14, 2009 9:17 PM
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WHOM would I nominate? No one. But what about a prize for grammar? A nominee might be anyone that knows where to use "who" and where to use "whom".

Although not likely in light of the quality of grammar usually found here, perhaps there even is someone working at this august publication worthy of the nomination?

Posted by: emendis | October 14, 2009 7:54 PM
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Is there any CEO out there anywhere creating tens of thousands of jobs, or creating industries that create tens of thousands of jobs, jobs that can support a family, jobs that create product or services of value, that don't destroy the planet in the process?

Why do we have such a shortage of these talented people, while Wall Street trades trades of nothing, steals peoples life savings, and then takes home billions in taxpayer funded bonuses.

I truly don't understand.

Posted by: youmustbejoking1 | October 14, 2009 7:21 PM
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We do not need an award for those who behave ethically and honestly. Honesty is its own reward.

To reward someone for doing what they should be doing speaks to the weakness of our society.

Taking pay cuts and being creative, while notable, are hardly painful for well-reimbursed CEOs. When they do something that is truly a sacrifice, get back to me.

Posted by: arancia12 | October 14, 2009 7:18 PM
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The CEO of SunEdison...oh wait, there is no CEO there.

Posted by: Eradicator | October 14, 2009 7:08 PM
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If you look at what has been done to middle-class America since Regan I can’t believe you would actually even write this insanity about a great CEO. A great CEO in the US will outsource jobs, thus destroying countless families and lives, and drive down middle-class wages for the almighty profit margin. A CEO from GE is in on this? Go the Erie, PA and see what happened to GE there. It’s right out of Beirut, Lebanon. The total jobs outsourced are around 70%. How can a CEO do this and then be called a successful leader?

Any of these CEO’s decide to be good corporate citizens and spend some time living with the working families who live on the streets or live in tents? Of course not. They ignore them.

What’s a good leader as far as a CEO in the US? A success-driven person who wants to increase the stock and share-holder value. Why do you write an article like this? Write articles about how CEO’s have destroyed middle class America and focus on the disaster at hand, not some filthy-rich guy who has a tax shelter.

Posted by: swazendo | October 14, 2009 5:57 PM
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I didn't realize we needed to reward people for doing their jobs! While I think it's nice to recognize people for doing a good job- certainly helps with office and an individual's morale- this is almost like saying, "thanks for doing what we hired you to do". And I agree with previous posters- why only individuals in charge of larger corporations? Why not small business owners, they work just as hard as anyone else....

Posted by: FireRaven | October 14, 2009 5:44 PM
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Do we really need another Nobel prize?--Really!

Posted by: Beingsensible | October 14, 2009 4:28 PM
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I recently read that the Rose Leadership Institute recently named Barack Obama as their first Geoleader who would be someone that would be aligned with winning a Nobel Prize for Leadership.

He embodies the seven core competencies of a global business leader, including: capability, care, change, consciousness, contrasts, context, and communication.

The second Geoleader would be David Neeleman, formerly of Jet Blue, and now of Azul Airlines in Brazil. This is someone who realized his own cultural bias but took his own cultural knowledge and started what is now the third largest airlines in Brazil. He leads across geographical borders and cultural contexts. He understands that CARE is important in leadership: there is a balanced interest and value for both profit and stakeholders. Leadership is about relationships, resources, respect, and recognition.

A true Geoleader is one that understands and exemplifies all of these variables in the service of others, and not just for self-interest.

Posted by: frances715 | October 14, 2009 4:05 PM
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Jeffrey Immelt at GE.

That you list Blankfein is beyond me.

Posted by: Jerkstore | October 14, 2009 3:57 PM
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Your criteria should include the following regarding the CEO's interactions with people:

"He invites participation if his/her people in decisions and affirms their dignity and uniqueness."

Posted by: *apostle | October 14, 2009 3:54 PM
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CEO's have no claim to nobility, though it is a class distinction based on socio-economic status achieved at birth. If businesses were run by people who had proven their ability, the world would be a much different place. Recent business history shows the blindness of decision makers to any kind of democratic ideal. Not that ignorance has never before accumulated into catastrophy, but those of us in the US have been lead to believe we were different. The question is: can we learn from our mistakes?

Posted by: kengelhart | October 14, 2009 3:48 PM
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I nominate Alan Mullaly of Ford Motor Company. He transferred his Boeing skills and knowledge to a badly faltering company and had the foresight to secure long term financing before the financial implosion, thereby avoiding government bailouts. He has managed to create one Ford Motors out of several disparate organizations and has cut unprofitable marques. Ford products are beginning to once again excel under his watch and show new sophistication in design and execution. He is Ford's gain and Boeing's loss.

Posted by: jharveinseattle | October 14, 2009 3:20 PM
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I nominate Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco. Despite heavy criticism from analysts, he insisted on paying his employees better than he needed to. Time and data have proven him right that his higher-paid employees are more productive than those of his lower-paid competitors.

Posted by: bpai_99 | October 14, 2009 2:53 PM
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Easy one...

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods.

I'm sure that there are many others, and I disagree with those who say that these people shouldn't be praised for doing the right thing.

I, for one, always appreciate when I find myself working for a good manager. It makes all the difference in the world. On the contrary, life is very hard indeed when you work for bad managers.

If you don't understand that, you either don't have a job, or you yourself are one of those bad managers.

Posted by: dizzyguy | October 14, 2009 1:53 PM
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How about instead of big time CEOs, you consider so many small business executives who have received no bailout & no assistance and continue operating within ridiculously tight credit crisis? Some who are not even taking paychecks themselves to make sure their employees have paychecks. The small business CEOs can teach a lesson or two to the big guys when it gets to leadership, innovation and strong ethical values.

Posted by: nasimnour | October 14, 2009 1:22 PM
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The mention of anyone who took bailout money makes this effort suspect, Goldman Sachs is certainly one of them.

I'd look instead at operations like National Capital Bank of Washington, which hasn't used subprimes for over a century. They apparently run their business by looking further ahead than the next quarters returns.

Posted by: Quantumfog | October 14, 2009 1:06 PM
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Why should any of these people get more than they already do. None deserve a special recognition for not being as big a thief as the next.

I vote none of the above.

Posted by: metroman76 | October 14, 2009 12:49 PM
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I agree with an earlier poster. These guys are more than adequately rewarded for their work. Effort would be better spent vilifying those that are being excessively rewarded fortheir work.

Posted by: tonynelson1 | October 14, 2009 11:41 AM
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Isn't that kinda like asking: Which of Hitler's top 500 officials should we nominate for a Nobel Prize for Leadership? Yucchh! Terrible idea.

It's past time for economic leadership to shift the economic philosophy of the United States to work within and for a sustainable world with limited resources; where taking care of people is just part of doing business; where minimal environmental pollution output is desirable; where production produces quality, etc, etc, etc.

None of the people you suggest deserve more than honorable mention for the economic booby prize and none deserve even a hint of a Nobel prize. The big booby prize winners are of course, the criminal CEOs and their corporations who caused the meltdown; who squandered the well being and fortunes of millions of Americans, and who got personally richer from the crisis they precipitated. They're not leaders, they're not responsible, and none of them understand a finite world floating alone in space with limited resources and a burgeoning population. Do YOU understand that, Mr. Cabrera? From your suggestions, I doubt it.

Posted by: thetravelingmasseur | October 14, 2009 10:53 AM
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For the Nobel prize - I nominate the president of any large bank in Canada.
They never got greedy, nor sold out, just took care of business!!!

Posted by: Mecarswell


Nothing to do with not being greedy. Lots to do with Canada not being stupid enough to deregulate the financial industry.

And I should know, I'm a Canadian who is a licensed insurance agent.

Posted by: alysheba_3 | October 14, 2009 10:37 AM
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I would nominate this whole discussion as an outstanding example of worthless noise.

Posted by: dnjake | October 14, 2009 10:32 AM
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David Kellermann

Posted by: rcubedkc | October 14, 2009 10:14 AM
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Golisano (and not just because he's a good guy - because he's dating Monica Seles!)

Duke - turned Wal-Mart from The Worst of the Big Bad Boxes into a more union- and environment-friendly company.

Buffett - the Original Sage

Posted by: WriteKing | October 14, 2009 10:13 AM
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Ray Anderson of Interface. His commitment to changing his company's relationship to the environment needs replication everywhere.

Posted by: cellmaker | October 14, 2009 9:19 AM
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Tom Golisano of Paychex. Has given millions to hospitals, schools and kept his salary low by industry standards.

Posted by: welwell | October 14, 2009 9:07 AM
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Mike Duke of Walmart.

Posted by: THIEF | October 14, 2009 8:45 AM
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Lee Hicks of Walmart.

Posted by: THIEF | October 14, 2009 8:44 AM
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Steve Jobs of Apple. He's one of the few CEO's that, in my opinion, are worth every penny of their compensation. Love him or hate him, you cannot deny that his entrepreneurial leadership has been what has made his company successful.

Posted by: mikem1 | October 14, 2009 8:06 AM
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I nominate Jim Owens of Caterpillar. Owens took something like a 50% pay cut, a move followed by the rest of the executive office. He also provided a year of premium-free health insurance to all employees who had to be laid off. Owens was one of the CEO's in 2007 who came out in support of carbon reduction efforts. Cat's Brazil facility was voted the top place to work in Brazil, and Owens is strident in his efforts to improve safety at all Caterpillar facilities. Under Owens' leadership Cat doubled in sales, to over $53 billion in 2008, the majority of which were EXPORTS, showing the U.S. can still lead the world in manufacturing. As a result of all his efforts, Cat's stock has doubled in value since the spring of 2009. Owens, in short, is a champion of creating value, while also emphasizing - and living - values.

Posted by: sagami | October 14, 2009 7:52 AM
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Are you kidding me??? Bill Gates? He may have the last two qualifications after he got married and had his children but he FAILED in a BIG way with the first three. Makes me doubt when you nominate the other CEO's. Anyway, they are all just figureheads of already MONSTROUS companies. What about smaller, innovative companies?

Posted by: cmecyclist | October 14, 2009 7:24 AM
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I would nominate no one. CEOs are already widely overpaid for what they actually do, and piling a prize on top would be adding insult to injury. At best, they are figureheads, and at worst, millstones. So-called corporate turnarounds are more the result of unscrewing mistakes (often driven by greed) and allowing workers to do what the do best. No Nobels laureates for business, please.

Posted by: schmuckatelli | October 14, 2009 6:58 AM
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For the Nobel prize - I nominate the president of any large bank in Canada.
They never got greedy, nor sold out, just took care of business!!!

Posted by: Mecarswell | October 14, 2009 6:12 AM
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