Repeat Performers

These managers have shown savvy and a gift for innovation over the long haul

If only it could be bottled -- that special touch that makes a manager great not just for a quarter, but year after year. In 2004 there were seven we had to take our hat off to once again:

Fujio Cho, 67, president of Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ), has been smiling a lot these days. And why not? In the U.S., the Camry sedan has dominated car sales for the past eight years. Suburban moms couldn't get their hands on a Sienna minivan fast enough. And Toyota again deftly paired sales of gas-guzzling Tundra trucks with the environmentally friendly Prius. Analysts expect Toyota to haul in $11 billion in earnings for 2004.

Carlos Ghosn, 50, has had to steer Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY ) past a few more curves. Near bankruptcy in 1999, Nissan has climbed back under Ghosn to the point where it boasts the car industry's highest operating profit margins: 11%. The CEO's obsession with setting and meeting targets helped, as did fresh new models.

In the 24 years since Steven P. Jobs, 49, founded Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL ), he has become as famous for his love of good design as for a stubborn insistence on doing things his way. Both traits helped Apple flourish in 2004. Roaring sales of Apple's breakthrough iPod music player -- plus an expected $250 million in U.S. box-office sales for his separate company Pixar Animation Studios' (PIXR ) latest hit, The Incredibles -- show Jobs still knows how to cater to consumers.

For Margaret C. Whitman, 48, CEO of eBay Inc. (EBAY ), the key to surviving the dot-com ups and downs has been savvy management of a workforce she does not control: eBay's 125 million registered users. Whitman has a soft touch, constantly talking to buyers and sellers and signing autographs at eBay's annual member conference. Now facing growing competition at home from Inc. (AMZN ) and Google Inc. (GOOG ), she is extending that touch around the globe, acquiring auction sites in China, India, and Korea, as well as online classified-ad sites.

Terry S. Semel, 61, CEO of Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO ), also kept up his company's hot growth by continuing a steady stream of acquisitions in 2004. Early in the year he paid $160 million for online music service Musicmatch Inc., hoping to bring more subscribers into the Yahoo fold. It's a measure on which Semel has already delivered: Yahoo has more than tripled its number of paying subscribers, from 2.2 million in 2002 to roughly 8 million today. That, plus a boom in search ads, is expected to nearly double 2004 profits, to $466 million.

It was as a cost-cutter that Yun Jong Yong, 60, initially made his mark. Now the CEO of Samsung Electronics Co. is all about innovation, and he's making waves again. Today, Samsung competes with Intel Corp. for leadership in flash memory chips and is threatening Nokia Co.'s (NOK ) cell-phone dominance with its advanced mobile devices. Analysts believe Samsung will almost double its profits in 2004, to $10 billion.

George David, 62, CEO of United Technologies Corp. (UTX ), has turned Carrier air conditioners, Otis elevators, and Hamilton Sundstrand aerospace systems into industry leaders. He has regularly delivered double-digit annual earnings growth. And stock returns are up about 650% since David took over in April, 1994. That makes him one of a select few CEOs who have earned kudos time and again.

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