The year 2004 proved to be a time of great paradox. Executives in once-booming industries such as information technology and pharmaceuticals stumbled. Counterparts in supposedly sleepy segments like steel, oil, and heavy equipment hauled in more profits than they had seen in years. All the while, executives who presided over the scandals of the boom years were being paraded through courtrooms.
Some of last year's strongest performances came from executives in a cleanup role: Ed Breen at Tyco (TYC) and Anne Mulcahy at Xerox (XRX), who turned around troubled ships by combining no-nonsense leadership with strict financial controls. Just as dramatic were the flameouts. Marsh & McLennan's (MMC) Jeffrey W. Greenberg resigned after New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused the insurance brokerage firm of bid-rigging and other no-nos. Some of the starkest examples of good and bad management came from Washington. President George W. Bush owed his reelection to campaign manager Karl Rove, but was criticized for standing by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who mismanaged the war in Iraq.
To decide which executives should be lauded and which deserved a different kind of renown, we surveyed our staff of more than 130 writers and editors in New York and in 20 bureaus around the world. And this year we top off our package with a visit to America's most popular manager, Donald Trump. His casinos may have filed for Chapter 11, but Trump has built a booming empire of fantasy around an improbable TV hit, The Apprentice. It's only fitting: In the rough and tumble reality show called Corporate America, it's a week-to-week proposition as to which CEOs survive -- and which get fired.