Europe’s Best Performing CEOs … Pablo Isla, Bernard Arnault, Francois-Henri Pinault, Elmar Degenhardt, Jacques Aschenbroich, Johan Thijs, and Martin Bouygues

March 31, 2019

Europe’s CEOs are the best in the world, according to HBR’s recent list of the world’s best performing CEOs.

While companies are defined by the work of their staff, they all need a figurehead and a leader to act as the face of the business, and to shape their corporate strategy. That’s where the CEO comes in.

In the annual ranking of The Best Performing CEOs in the World, Spain’s Pablo Isla, CEO of Inditex, the fashion giant behind brands like Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Pull and Bear took home the top spot for the second consecutive year.

The ranking is created by looking at three key financial variables: The change in market capitalisation a CEO has overseen during his tenure, the country-adjusted total shareholder return, and the industry-adjusted total shareholder return. The ranking also measured what it calls ESG, or the environmental, social, and governance score. Some examples factored into ESG include how much hazardous waste a company produces (environmental) and company diversity (social).  These four variables are then combined to give a score that helps identify how well a company is performing, and as a result how the CEO is doing.

Most striking was how many European CEOs led the global ranking (7 in the global top 10), and then within  Europe how many French CEOs featured (6 of European top 10) and how many came from the automative (3 in European top 10) and luxury goods (2 of the European top 3). And most obvious, and need of change, none of them are women.

The Best European CEOs of 2018

World #1, Europe #1: Pablo Isla, Inditex, Spain

World #3, Europe #2: Bernard Arnault, LVMH, France

World #4, Europe #3: Francois-Henri Pinault, Kering, France

World #5, Europe #4: Elmar Degenhart, Continental, Germany

World #7, Europe #5: Jacques Aschenbroich, Valeo, France

World #8, Europe #6: Johan Thijs, KBC, Belgium

World #10, Europe #7: Martin Bouygues, Bouygues, France

World #13, Europe #8: Bernard Charles, Dessault Systemes, France

World #20, Europe #9: Benoit Potier, Air Liquide, France

World #21, Europe #10: Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler, Italy

World #24, Europe #11: Florentino Perez Rodriguez, ACS, Spain

World #25, Europe #12: Lars Rasmussen, Colorplast, Denmark

What does it take to be a CEO?

LinkedIn profiled over 12,000 of its members who share the title of “CEO” at companies with over 50 employees from 20 countries. The goal was to see where and what they studied, explore their earliest jobs on record, and uncover what positions they held immediately before making the leap to CEO.

Of course whilst past career paths can be instructive, they’re not necessarily predictive of the future. Unfortunately today’s CEOs aren’t a particularly diverse bunch: fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only three Fortune 500 CEOs are black. As diversity and inclusion becomes a higher priority for companies, leaders will come from more diverse backgrounds.

Key findings from the LinkedIn CEO analysis were:

  • Computer science was the most popular field of study for CEOs. More traditionally business-oriented degrees followed computer science with economics as the second-most popular, business as the third, banking/finance fourth, and electrical engineering fifth.
  • Stanford University was the most attended school among CEOs, although that might reflect a US-biased sample. INSEAD ranked eighth. 33% of the CEOs have a Master’s degree or MBA.
  • Consultant was the most common first job for CEOs, learning how to tackle complex challenges across multiple businesses and work environments. Software engineer was the next most-common, followed by analyst.
  • 72% of held a director-level role or higher immediately before they became a CEO for the first time. Only 20% of larger company CEOs listed themselves as being promoted internally.


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