Selecting a CEO of the Year

Article excerpt

The ghost of Carly Fiorina hung over our recent judging session for this year's CEO of the Year. Given that she was in office for five and a half years only to crash and burn, and that the median CEO tenure at a major company is only four years, how can anyone judge whether Fiorina - or any chief executive - has really done the job well?

That was the challenge facing Fred Smith of FedEx, our 2004 CEO of the Year and the chairman of the judging panel, as well as two former honorees, Sandy Weill of Citigroup and Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines. Two other judges, Joe Tucci of EMC and Pat Russo of Lucent, completed their three-year tenures on the selection panel. Rounding out the panel of seven were Mike Critelli of Pitney Bowes and Scott Serota of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

To be sure, our judges did make a selection - George David of United Technologies, who has enjoyed a spectacular run over a 10-year time frame. Look for insights into just how he's accomplished that in our cover story next month.

The 90-minute judging session, held at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, was revealing in many ways. Any CEO who takes office is, for about two years, essentially riding on the momentum created by his or her predecessor, several judges said. New products hitting the marketplace often were developed under the previous regime. And it can take two years to get settled into the job and really take the reins of a company, particularly if it's a big one.

Partly because of the Fiorina debacle, the judges remained skeptical about mergers and acquisitions. …