Deconstructing Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year List, part two

All of the individuals on Fortune's Businessperson of the Year List have made their mark.

Fortune Magazine recently released the 2015 iteration of its Businessperson of the Year List, which weighed a number of aspects such as profit and revenue increases, corporate stock performance, shareholder returns, ratio of debt to capital, strategic initiatives, business influence and leadership style.

In part one of this article, we reported that Mark Parker of footwear manufacturer Nike took pole position this year, credited with more than doubling Nike’s revenue since becoming CEO nine years ago and maintaining an innovative attitude that has kept the company from stagnating or resting on its considerable laurels. In second place was Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, whom Fortune lauded for his site’s “dominance on the social web” – according to the news source, Facebook and its subsidiaries Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp account for a whopping 20 percent of the time Americans spend on their cellphones. Andrew Wilson of Electronic Arts was No. 3 on the list, having been instrumental in taking the floundering video game company in a more profitable direction by focusing on platform agnosticism, quality and putting players first.

In part two, we’ll take a look at the men in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots before highlighting some of the women who made it into Fortune’s prestigious list of the top 50 businesspeople of 2015.

“Apple’s Tim Cook had big shoes to fill, but he must have done something right.”

A bite of the Apple
Tim Cook had big shoes to fill when he took the reins as CEO of Apple in 2011, securing his position as successor to the late – and legendary – Steve Jobs, but he must have done something right: As Fortune pointed out, Apple has amassed “an eye-popping $53 billion in profits” over the past year, and continued to pump out lucrative offerings such as the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus, as well as the first iteration of the Apple Watch.

In terms of leadership style, Cook’s approach differs considerably from that of his predecessor – and that may not be such a bad thing. In the November 2014 edition of Success magazine, contributor Chris Raymond listed the following ways in which Cook is excelling as Apple CEO:

  • His financial acumen, honed by years of controlling costs in order to “grant Steve Jobs the freedom to create his masterpieces without any fiscal concerns,” as Raymond put it.
  • His willingness to give credit where credit’s due by bringing his colleagues into the limelight.
  • His self-imposed, passion-fueled, grueling work schedule.
  • His commitment to cultivating a positive experience for those on Apple’s payroll, shown in his support of employees’ charitable efforts and advocacy of workplace equality.
  • His willingness to strike up partnerships with other companies for Apple’s benefit – even those long-maligned by Jobs, notably IBM.

Cashing in
Chances are good that the average member of the public has owned or used the products of at least a couple of the companies headed by Fortune’s top four businesspeople of the year. Check your wallet, and you’ll likely find that the enterprise overseen by the man who came in fifth on the list is no exception in this regard. As Fortune reported, Ajay Banga of MasterCard has doubled the financial services corporation’s profits and revenue over the past five years, while Rediff pointed out that shares in the company have a market value of $110 billion. Moreover, Banga’s aggressive approach to acquisitions is “going to set [MasterCard] up to succeed technologically,” Barclays analyst Darrin Peller told Fortune.

“We’re investing in other services, both organically and through acquisitions,” Banga said of his corporate strategy, as quoted by Rediff. “We are clearly seeing the benefits of these acquisitions in our business engagements.”

In a speech he delivered at the 50th annual convocation of the Indian Institute of Ahmedabad – his alma mater – Banga offered insight into his leadership style. As Quartz India reported, he underscored the importance of having the courage to “take thoughtful risks,” embodying the seemingly contradictory senses of balance and urgency, thinking globally to develop a diverse view of the world and being “competitively paranoid.”

According to Fortune, MasterCard is fast approaching $10 billion in revenue.
According to Fortune, MasterCard is fast approaching $10 billion in revenue.

A woman’s touch
Although women were very much in the minority, female CEOs did occupy five of the 50 spaces on Fortune’s 2015 Businessperson of the Year List. Mary Dillon, who has served as CEO of Ulta Beauty for the past two years, was ranked the highest at No. 6, followed by:

  • Barbara Rentler, CEO of discount retailer Ross Stores, at No. 17.
  • Carol Meyrowitz, CEO of the TJX conglomerate – composed of HomeGoods, Marshalls and TJ Maxx, among others – at No. 28.
  • Laura Alber, CEO of upscale cookware and kitchen decor chain Williams-Sonoma, at No. 34.
  • Phebe Novakovic, CEO of defense contractor General Dynamics, at No. 42.

“So far this year, TJX has generated more sales than Macy’s.”

The members of the quintet have each impacted the corporate landscape in their own unique way. Fortune reported that under Dillon, Ulta Beauty has enjoyed a stock increase of 42 percent over the past year, exceeding the S&P 500 by approximately 38 percentage points. Meanwhile, Rentler’s strategic approach to expansion means that although there are large swathes of the country devoid of Ross Stores (New England, for instance), the off-price retailer is propagating in winnable markets, leading to growth in its overall margins. Overseen by Rentler’s biggest competitor, TJX has seen a two-thirds increase in revenue since Meyrowitz became CEO in 2007. Although she plans to leave her post at the end of this year, Meyrowitz will be going out with a bang: So far this year, TJX has generated more sales than Macy’s.

While Rentler and Meyrowitz are in the business of discounts, Alber is at the opposite end of the spectrum, overseeing a company Fortune described as “the chain that epitomizes kitchens as upper-middle-class fantasyland.” When she became CEO in 2010, online sales were a weak point for Williams-Sonoma. Today, nearly 50 percent of the company’s sales are made via the Internet, and Williams-Sonoma is the 21st largest online retailer in the United States, noted Alber in an article she penned for the Harvard Business Review last year.

Comparisons can be drawn between EA’s Wilson at No. 3 and the last of the quintet, General Dynamics’ Novakovic, at No. 42. Both took the helm in the same year – 2013 – at a time when their once booming organizations were flailing. In EA’s case, a market shift away from designing games for consoles left the gaming titan out of step with consumers, while acquisitions made outside of General Dynamics’ core sectors by Novakovic’s predecessor, Jay Johnson, ushered in a period of loss for the aerospace and defense contractor. Over the past two years, Novakovic has focused on the company’s bread and butter, going back to basics and reaping more than $1 billion in operating earnings over four consecutive quarters as a result.

“Phebe has hit it out of the park streamlining the organization,” Linda Hudson, former CEO of defense contractor BAE Systems, told Fortune. “The stock price is phenomenal.”

Some of the individuals on Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year List took the reins during prosperous times and expertly guided their companies to new heights, while others stanched the bleeding of organizations in trouble and navigated the corporations to safer waters. Regardless of their circumstances, one thing is for sure – each CEO has made his or her mark.

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