Harvard Business Review: The best CEOs in the world

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New Delhi: He credits “luck” for propelling him to the very top of management magazine Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) annual ranking of best performing chief executive officers (CEOs). Meet Lars Rebien Sørensen, the CEO of Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. Sørensen has been in charge since 2000.

Founded in 1923, Novo Nordisk is headquartered in Bagsværd, Denmark. The company, according to HBR, was founded “to make insulin, a newly discovered drug”. The company, it adds, “now controls nearly half of the market for insulin products—which are second only to oncology drugs as the fastest growing category of pharmaceuticals. The firm also branched into growth hormones, hormone replacement therapies and drugs to treat hemophilia”.

Novo Nordisk, as we know today, became a corporation in 1989, when Nordisk Insulin Laboratorium, the company founded in 1923, merged with Novo Terapeusik Laboratorium, another Danish pharma major. The company currently employs more than 40,000 people in 75 countries, according to its its website.

As someone who came in from an operational background, Sørensen, in an interview with HBR, says that he had to change his personal perspective on “what my job was—to be less operational and more involved in setting the direction of the company. I had to focus more on establishing the tone and the values and personally communicating with our employees and stakeholders. That was a big transition for me because I was more comfortable running the business, selling stuff, manufacturing stuff. Recently, I’ve become more involved with the research side, because I have to direct resources. This is the most exciting thing—the science. Even though I’m not a scientist, I understand a little biology, and our scientists have been patient with me—they’ve taught me a lot over the years”.

He describes his style of leadership as “Scandinavian, which is consensus-oriented”. He adds, “That principle is enshrined in our management procedures. I’m obliged to reach consensus with my colleagues on all decisions, and if we can’t, any objection needs to be reported to the board.” He also cites the rather “aggressive” American style of leadership as an influence, having spent six years in the country in the early part of his career. “I am slightly more aggressive than the typical Scandinavian business leader.”

Besides Sørensen, the list also features the executive chairman of Cisco Systems, John Chambers (ranked second). Chambers took over as Cisco’s CEO in 1996, and held the post till July 2015, when Chuck Robbins replaced him. Pablo Isla, the chairman and CEO of Spanish retail company Inditex, is ranked third. Elmar Degenhart, the CEO of Hanover-based Continental Tyre Group AG is ranked fourth, while Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Plc, is ranked fifth.

Other prominent business leaders who feature in the list include Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (ranked 12th), Mike Parker of Nike (ranked 21st), Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn (ranked 40th), Ma (Pony) Huateng of Tencent (ranked 45th) and Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos (ranked 87th).

Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard, is the only Indian on the list and is ranked 76th. Besides, the rankings also feature Martin Winterkorn (ranked 20th), the former CEO of Wolfsburg-based auto maker Volkswagen. Winterkorn resigned last month, following the emission-fixing scandal, which involved the German auto maker.

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