In November 2015, the Harvard Business Review released a list of the world’s top performing CEOs. You might expect it to be Mark Zuckerberg or Google’s Sundar Pichai, but instead Lars Rebien Sørensen - the CEO of Danish company Novo Nordisk - took the top spot.
Let’s take a look at the HBR’s top 3 CEOs.
Lars Rebien Sørensen, Novo Nordisk
Nobody at Novo Nordic could have foreseen the company’s rise back in 1920. As one of the first producers of insulin, the company has gone from being relatively niche, to a mass producer of diabetes treatments. There are now close to 400 million diabetes sufferers worldwide - and it’s a market which Novo Nordisk controls nearly half of.
In his interview in HBR, Sørensen was keen to accentuate just how important luck has been throughout his career. However, under his leadership, Novo Nordisk’s business model has developed considerably. Instead of trying to convince people to switch to their product, the company now attempts to catch people as soon as they’ve been diagnosed. It’s an approach that has allowed Novo Nordisk to build a more loyal customer base, as patients who get established on a particular form of insulin tend to stick with it.
Not only did Sørensen manage to lead Novo Nordisk successfully through the financial crisis when so many of its contemporaries - including Pfizer, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline - experienced hardship, the company is now diversifying into growth hormones and hormone replacement therapies.
John Chambers, Cisco
Chambers stepped down as Cisco’s CEO in July 2015, but his legacy is set to act as the company’s foundation for some time. Described by Fortune as a ‘gregarious salesman’, he led the company for two decades, guiding them through the the dot-com bubble and the finance crisis.
When asked what he thought constituted a great leader, he said: ‘Innovation and leadership is about a company's ability to reinvent themselves, reinvent their leadership team and to reinvent their CEO.’ The importance Chambers placed on reinvention is partly why Cisco is still one of the world’s biggest companies, and the reason its former competitors - including Nortel and Alcatel - are not the presence they once were.
The root of the company’s continued success has been its ability to recognize what Chambers calls ‘inflection points’. In an interview in CBR he stated: ‘So we are at one of the most exciting times and what Cisco's done very successfully over the years is see when these inflection points would come and get ahead of them three, five, seven years ahead,’ perhaps reflecting his beliefs that new blood is needed to take Cisco through its next challenge - namely the internet of things.
Pablo Isla, Inditex
Inditex is best known for its brands Bershka, Massimo Dutti and Zara - which when combined, make the company the biggest fashion group in the world. And Isla has been the company’s CEO for the last decade.
Owned by Amancio Ortega and his family, Isla has managed to develop the business by not only expanding the reach of its current stores, but also by adding new companies to Inditex’s portfolio. Fashion accessory manufacturer - Uterque - was founded in 2008 and now has 67 stores in 12 countries worldwide.