Americans woke up a few days before Christmas to find there was no Santa Claus on Wall Street. World markets shuddered in response, and it now seems certain that the New Year is off to one of the roughest starts in a decade.
As we looked for candidates for the "Top 25 Managers of the Year," we were well aware that leaders needed to go beyond driving share price and toning up balance sheets. We asked our worldwide network of reporters and editors to pick bosses who seemed to have what it takes to lead a company through down times even though for much of the last year they could have sailed through a bull market. We also asked our writers to concentrate on executives facing real turnaround situations for this year, many of whom have scant room or time to get the job done.
Only a few faces are back from a year ago, and NTT DoCoMo Inc.'s Keiji Tachikawa is the only one from outside the U.S. A year ago, BUSINESS WEEK praised him for turning "i-mode" Net-access service for wireless phones into a hit in Japan. Now, Tachikawa wants to turn DoCoMo into a global force, with an alliance with America Online Inc. and wireless stakes around the globe.
Many managers earned a place through sheer determination. Craig Venter's Celera Genomics team beat the U.S. government in the race to decode the human genome. Airbus Industrie's Noel Forgeard caught up to archrival Boeing Co. in the global commercial aircraft market. He also pushed ahead with plans for the superjumbo A380--the world's biggest jet. Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing sparked a rush into European telecoms this spring, netting $22 billion for shareholders of Hutchison Whampoa. In August, he backed out of a deal for a German 3G next-generation telecom license, saying it was too expensive. Shortly thereafter, the market sank for global telecom stocks. These successful asset trades secured Li's spot in the Top 25.
Bertelsmann's Thomas Middelhoff will be one of the world's most watched bosses this year. Middelhoff's deal with Napster, the music downloading outlaw, stunned rivals. His decision to make all of Bertelsmann's content--from music to books--available digitally makes him one of the world's leading converts to online distribution.
Fellow German Dieter Zetsche will also be among this year's most watched. Dispatched by DaimlerChrysler chief Jurgen Schrempp, Zetsche's job will be to save Chrysler--in the middle of what may well be a worldwide auto-industry slowdown. He will likely be measured against auto-industry wunderkind Carlos Ghosn, who steered Nissan Motor Co. back from the brink during the first six months of this fiscal year toward what he expects will be record profits.
We believe we've produced a list of the world's very best, and hope their success stories will provide enduring lessons in the art of management.