Cover Story: INTRODUCTION
The 25 Top Executives of the Year
This was not a year for the faint of heart. Nor was it a year for the tinkerer or the tortoise. No, 1998 was a year of dramatic change in which executives were forced to surf swelling waves of volatility--and many didn't make it back to shore. Unlike the mid-1990s, when a steadily growing economy helped even average executives boast stellar gains, not everyone was able to stay on their feet. Among those who did, however, were BUSINESS WEEK's 25 Top Executives of 1998. These savvy leaders did a mighty job of keeping their companies stable amid the turmoil.
Start with a stock market that soared, then plummeted, then soared again, forcing managers to tear up and reconstruct financing plans. Add an international economic crisis that spread like a contagion throughout much of the world. For companies in Asia and much of the developing world, the mix of plummeting currencies and depressed economies has proven to be a toxic one. Back in the U.S., the crisis has put pressure on earnings and cast doubt on the notion of overseas markets as a slow-growth panacea. Throw in rising wages, the biggest merger boom ever, and the upheaval in the White House, and it was a chaotic picture for most.
Not so for BUSINESS WEEK's Top Executives. Despite radically different management styles, ages, and backgrounds, all were able to find a path through the uncertain times. Often, it took the form of bold action. Take the stunning decision by America Online CEO Steve Case and President Bob Pittman to buy Internet pioneer Netscape Communications. The $4.2 billion deal makes AOL the first Internet company with the clout and the cash to stand up to Microsoft. Equally audacious was Daimler Benz CEO Jurgen Schrempp's merger with American auto maker Chrysler. The $94 billion deal set the car world on its head. While Schrempp still must merge the two cultures and keep Mercedes' elite brands apart from Chrysler's mainstream ones, he has quieted the naysayers for now.
Executives didn't have to buy to be bold. Karen Katen, president of Pfizer's U.S. Pharmaceuticals Group, rode wonder drug Viagra to roughly $850 million in 1998 sales. Steve Jobs jumped back in at Apple Computer in July, 1997, after a host of CEOs failed to end its slide. Now, he seems to be pulling off--could it be?--a turnaround, even as his digital animation studio, Pixar, is taking off. And who would have thought that long-suffering US Airways Group would prosper under Chairman Steve Wolf and CEO Rakesh Gangwal?
In some industries, no one had a great year, but smart managers minimized the damage. Chase Manhattan's Walter Shipley has managed acquisitions better than many, and he played it safer on emerging markets than his rivals. As a result, Chase may post its best quarter ever in one of the worst years in memory for financial services. Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, maneuvered through a terrible slump in the chip business by expanding the product line at both the top and bottom ends. Investors are happy: The stock is near an all-time high.
To select our 25 Top Executives, BUSINESS WEEK first surveyed our staff of 145 writers and editors in 25 worldwide bureaus. We narrowed the list by examining each candidate's financial and stock performance. For some, the results were superb. Others stood out simply for keeping afloat while their rivals sank. Either way, 1998's gutsy overachievers outclassed the field.Return to top
Return to top
The Honor Roll
INTELSteve Case & Bob Pittman
AMERICA ONLINEJohn Chambers
CISCO SYSTEMSMichael Dell
DELL COMPUTERMickey Drexler
WAL-MART STORESLeo Hindery
ATI TECHNOLOGIESNobuyuki Idei
APPLE COMPUTER, PIXAR ANIMATION STUDIOSKaren Katen
PFIZER U.S. PHARMACEUTICALSTimothy A. Koogle
TYCO INTERNATIONALRichard McGinn
LUCENT TECHNOLOGIESScott McNealy
SUN MICROSYSTEMSMarilyn Carlson Nelson
DAIMLERCHRYSLERCharles Schwab & David Pottruck
CHARLES SCHWAB & COWalter Shipley
CHASE MANHATTANLloyd Ward
SBC COMMUNICATIONSSteve Wolf & Rakesh Gangwal
U.S. AIRWAYSAllan Wong
VTech HOLDINGSReturn to top