Repeat Performers

When you've got it, you've got it. Some of our Best Managers have been here before:

Noël Forgeard, 57, didn't need to do much in 2003 to make Airbus outshine its woebegone rival, Boeing (BA ) Co. But he did plenty. Forgeard kept Airbus' new megaplane, the $13 billion A380, on schedule for its 2006 launch. He finished transforming Airbus from a loose-knit consortium of European companies into an integrated organization that's now the world commercial aviation leader. Five years ago, Airbus built half as many planes as Boeing; in 2003 it had an expected 300 deliveries, vs. Boeing's 280.

With his outspoken views on consumer banking issues, Richard M. Kovacevich, the chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo & Co., breaks the mold of the button-down banker. Since 1998, he has also set the standard for banking excellence. The average Wells Fargo customer buys more than four products from the bank, double the industry average. The 60-year-old exec says he anticipates no big strategic changes in 2004. Why would he? The bank has clocked double-digit growth in both sales and earnings for nine consecutive quarters.

Symantec Corp. (SYMC )CEO John W. Thompson, 54, turned in arguably the software industry's best financial performance. Thanks in large part to a panic caused by a summer outbreak of computer viruses, profits and revenue at the security software company are expected to climb more than 30% for 2003. Symantec is nearing $2 billion in annual sales, making it twice as big as the next largest competitor. Thompson's goal for 2003 was to boost sales to corporations; they rose 25%.

Alan G. "A.G." Lafley, 56, has restored Procter & Gamble (PG ) Co. as the premier global consumer-products company and exceeded Wall Street earnings forecasts for four of the last five quarters. Unit volume growth is double that of competitors. If P&G makes good on analysts' forecasts for 11% higher profits in the fiscal year ending in June, Lafley will be sitting pretty.

Two decades after he sold his first computer, 38-year-old Michael S. Dell and his company are running at peak form. The industry's fastest growth, plus a big cost advantage, gave Dell Inc. revenues of $29.9 billion in the first nine months of 2003, up 17%, while net income rose 25%, to $1.9 billion. As customers finally loosen the purse strings, CEO Dell is offering a slew of new products.

How could Carlos Ghosn, 49, top his first three years in Japan, when he revamped a near-bankrupt Nissan Motor Co (NSANY )., eliminated most of its debt, and regained profitability? By lifting operating profit margins to 11.3% in the six months from April to September, up from 10.8% in 2002. Behind snazzy new models, CEO Ghosn looks likely to achieve his next goal: boosting sales by 40% by 2005.

Killer profits, expanding U.S. market share, and breathtaking efficiency -- just another year for Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ) President Fujio Cho, 66. On Nov. 2, the auto maker reported a 23% increase in half-year net earnings, to $4.9 billion. Cho's redesigned enviro-friendly Prius is all the rage. And globally, Toyota overtook Ford Motor Co. (F ) as the No. 2 auto maker.

When eBay (EBAY ) Inc. CEO Margaret C. Whitman predicted in late 2000 that the online flea market would reach $3 billion in sales by 2005, many scoffed. In fact, eBay may get there a year early. Despite a tough economy and rising competition, eBay was expected to earn $430 million in 2003 on sales growth of 74%, to $2.1 billion. Now Whitman, 47, is pushing eBay more into the mainstream: "We have to change people's mind-sets so that instead of strolling down to the store, they check eBay first," she says.

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