For a company to achieve success, it needs a strong leader at the helm. Top CEOs can steer sinking corporations to profit-making businesses, but not all business leaders have the magic touch.
Some CEOs have turned failed companies around and others are largely credited with the demise of the corporation they founded or led. Take a look at 30 famous CEOs to find out who earned their huge salaries — and who didn’t.
Steve Jobs: Apple
In 1985, then-Apple CEO John Sculley fired Steve Jobs, co-founder of the tech company. When Jobs returned as CEO in 1997, Apple was nearly bankrupt.
Jobs sprung into action by brokering a deal with Microsoft to buy $150 million in nonvoting stock and to keep making its Office software for Macintosh. To streamline the company, he cut the number of Apple products by 70 percent, which led to approximately 3,000 employee layoffs. One year later, the company generated a $309 million profit.
Sadly, Jobs succumbed to pancreatic cancer in October 2011. Now led by Tim Cook, Apple is one of the most successful corporations in the world, and analysts expect it to be the first company to reach a market cap of $1 trillion.
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John Sculley: Apple
During his tenure as Apple CEO from 1983 to 1993, John Sculley committed the ultimate business fail — he fired Steve Jobs in 1985, news that caused the company’s stock prices to plummet to less than $2 per share from more than $5 per share in 1984. Sculley was forced out of the company in 1993 over a dispute with the board about licensing Macintosh software to other computer makers.
Sculley was opposed to the licensing idea, which the company went ahead with — and which was the first thing Jobs canceled upon his return. In a February 2015 interview with CNN tech, Sculley revealed he regrets not hiring Jobs back because he believes this would have saved Apple from near bankruptcy in the late 1990s.
Michael Eisner: Disney
Michael Eisner stepped down as Disney CEO in 2005, but his legacy lives on. He took the reins in 1984 and during his 21 years of leadership grew Disney’s annual revenues from $1.5 billion to almost $31 billion.
Under his watch, the company opened several new theme parks worldwide, including Disney-MGM studios in 1989 — now Disney’s Hollywood Studios — and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998, both in Orlando, Fla. Eisner also spearheaded the Disney Cruise Line launch, a stage play division and multiple cable channels.
Marissa Mayer: Yahoo
When Marissa Mayer took the reins as Yahoo CEO in July 2012, Silicon Valley was hopeful that Google’s 20th employee could save the struggling tech company.
Under her watch, Yahoo made some big moves — including purchasing blogging site Tumblr for $1.1 billion in 2013 — but failed to halt steady revenue declines. In the fourth quarter of 2015 alone, the company reported a $4.4 billion loss, which prompted Mayer to cut 15 percent of the workforce.
Yahoo finalized its sale to Verizon for $4.5 billion in June 2017. Mayer resigned at the closing of the deal and walked away with nearly $260 million — $23 million in severance pay and 4.5 million shares of Yahoo that were worth more than $236 million at the time.
Bob Iger: Disney
Michael Eisner left big shoes to fill, but Bob Iger proved he was up for the challenge. Disney’s CEO since 2005, Iger pitched buying Pixar to the board on his second day of work.
Disney acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006, followed by its $4 billion purchase of Marvel in 2009 and procurement of Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012. Consequently, Iger has turned Disney into a media powerhouse. In March 2017, Disney extended Iger’s contract as chairman and CEO to July 2, 2019.
Travis Kalanick: Uber
After cofounding Uber in 2009, Travis Kalanick turned the ride-sharing app into a business valued at $68 billion. Building the world’s most valuable startup is impressive, but in 2017, Kalanick’s leadership skills culminated in several public relations nightmares and triggered the departure of several key executives — he resigned in June 2017.
Under Kalanick’s watch, Uber lost approximately 2.8 billion in 2016. Much of this was due to expanding the app to China in 2013, which ultimately cost the company about $1 billion per year, Kalanick revealed in February 2016.
Uber finally sold its China business to rival Didi Chuxing in August 2016. In August 2017, Uber named Dara Khosrowshahi as CEO — he previously served as the CEO of Expedia.
Howard Schultz: Starbucks
He didn’t found Starbucks, but Howard Schultz is credited with turning the company into the world’s largest coffee business. Schultz and his Il Giornale line of coffeehouses acquired Starbucks in 1987 and assumed the name.
In 2000, Schultz stepped down as CEO and returned to the position in 2008. During the year leading up to his comeback, Starbucks stock had dropped 50 percent, which forced Schultz to close 900 stores and cut thousands of jobs to get the company back on track.
His strategy worked, as he was able to grow the coffee chain’s market value from $15 billion to $84 billion. Schultz stepped down as CEO in April 2017, and he currently serves as executive chairman.
John Stumpf: Wells Fargo
In October 2016, John Stumpf resigned from Wells Fargo after 34 years of service. CEO since June 2007, his resignation came after his poor handling of a scandal regarding more than 2 million customer accounts being opened by Wells Fargo employees — without telling the customers.
During two congressional hearings, Stumpf blamed low-level employees instead of holding himself and other top executives accountable. New CEO Tim Sloan has since taken over, but 1.4 million more fake accounts from the Stumpf era were publicly revealed in August 2017.
Wells Fargo has pledged to pay $6.1 million to refund customers for unauthorized bank and credit card accounts, $910,000 for illicit online bill pay enrollments and $142 million for fraudulent accounts opened since 2002.
Hubert Joly: Best Buy
Hubert Joly was named Best Buy's CEO in August 2012, and he’s still going strong. Critics initially deemed him unqualified for the job and predicted the retailer would follow in the footsteps of its failed competitors hhgregg and Circuit City, but they were very wrong.
Joly’s “Renew Blue” program has redesigned most of Best Buy’s U.S. stores, amped up employee training, enhanced the company’s e-commerce business and reduced annual expenses by $1 billion. For fiscal year 2017, Best Buy reported diluted earnings per share of $3.74, up from $2.30 per share in the fiscal year 2016.
Carly Fiorina: Hewlett-Packard
Before leading an unsuccessful campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential bid, Carly Fiorina was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. She took the company’s top spot in 1999 and remained in place for six years until the board removed her in 2005.
The first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company, Fiorina spearheaded HP’s largely unpopular, $25 billion acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. in 2002, which ultimately culminated in 17,000 layoffs. Often criticized for giving herself large bonuses while laying off employees, she was fired because of her management style. Fiorina was so unpopular, that when news of her departure broke HP stock prices immediately soared 10 percent, closing the day up 7 percent.
Meg Whitman: eBay
Before stepping down in January 2008, Whitman turned eBay into a global powerhouse. At the time of her departure, the company had more than 15,000 employees, hundreds of millions of registered users worldwide and nearly $7.7 billion in revenue.
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Jonathan Schwartz: Sun Microsystems
Jonathan Schwartz’s tenure as CEO of Sun Microsystems from 2006 to 2010 ended with the company’s demise. After losing $2.2 billion in its last year of fiscal independence, Oracle announced plans to buy the tech company for $7.4 billion — or $5.6 billion of its cash and debt — in 2009.
Oracle’s then-CEO, Larry Ellison, blamed the company’s downfall on Schwartz, accusing him of ignoring problems as they escalated, making poor strategic decisions and spending too much time on his blog, according to Reuters. The first Fortune 200 leader to announce his resignation on Twitter, Schwartz tweeted a haiku to share news of his departure.
Jeff Bezos: Amazon
In 1994, Jeff Bezos founded the online bookstore Amazon. Expecting to fail, he gave himself a 30 percent chance of success.
Fast forward to present day and — as of May 2017 — the company has a market cap of $427 billion. Now an online marketplace that sells everything from shoes to dog food, Amazon sales totaled $136 billion in 2016.
Still CEO — and one of the richest entrepreneurs around — Bezos led his company to success because he’s not afraid to take risks. From launching Amazon Original television series to buying Whole Foods, he’s focused on innovation.
Kenneth Lay: Enron
Kenneth Lay founded natural gas provider Enron in 1985. By 2000, he had grown the company into an energy giant valued at roughly $68 billion.
Top executive Jeffrey Skilling briefly became CEO in 2001, but resigned a few months later. In December, Enron filed the then-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Lay with fraud and insider trading in July 2004. Among other allegations, he was accused of garnering illegal proceeds totaling more than $90 million in 2001. One of the most legendary failed CEOs of all time, Lay was convicted on six counts of fraud and conspiracy in May 2006, but died in July 2006.
Lee Iacocca: Chrysler
When Lee Iacocca became CEO of Chrysler Corp. in 1978, the company was failing. After one year on the job, he convinced the government to bail the automaker out by supplying $1.5 billion in federally backed loans.
After securing the necessary capital, he resuscitated the company by launching a series of ground-breaking automobiles, including the mid-sized K-car line and the first minivans. The success of the vehicles — paired with cost-saving measures — enabled Chrysler to pay back those loans seven years early and save 600,000 jobs. Iacocca stepped down from Chrysler in 1992.
Eckhard Pfeiffer: Compaq
On the surface, Eckhard Pfeiffer was a success as CEO of the computer company Compaq. When he took the reins in 1991, the company had 21,000 workers and $3.3 billion in annual revenues — figures that rose to 69,000 and $31.2 billion, respectively, by 1998.
Despite his gains, the company’s board wasn’t pleased with his performance, so Pfeiffer agreed to resign in 1999. Accused of focusing on growing the company instead of catering to its target market, he received approximately $6 million in severance pay and roughly 13.4 million stock options.
Compaq never recovered. In 2002, Hewlett-Packard acquired the company in a stock swap valued at roughly $25 billion.
Doug Conant: Campbell’s Soup
When Douglas Conant become CEO of Campbell’s Soup in 2001, the company’s stock prices were quickly tumbling. Realizing the company had a toxic culture, he made it his mission to improve employee engagement.
Wearing a pedometer, Conant pledged to walk 10,000 steps per day at work and interact with as many employees as possible. He also wrote up to 20 notes per day to staffers, honoring their successes and thanking them for their contributions.
By 2009, the company had organically boosted its earnings by up to 4 percent a year for eight years running. Its earnings per share also grew from 5 percent to 10 percent per year. Conant stepped down in July 2011.
Stan O’Neal: Merrill Lynch
The CEO of Merrill Lynch from 2002 to 2007, Stan O’Neal is considered by many as one of the players responsible for the financial crisis. Known for his confident, ruthless management style, he turned healthy profits for the firm from 2003 to 2007.
In a 2010 interview with Fortune, O’Neal claimed he didn’t understand the magnitude of the firm’s $45 million collateralized debt obligations that were buried in its books. In August 2007, he began exploring the issue and realized the firm was in big trouble.
O’Neal stepped down in October 2007. Merrill Lynch lost $8 billion in 2007 on mortgage foreclosures and delinquencies. In September 2008, Bank of America announced plans to purchase the firm for $50 billion.
Anne Mulcahy: Xerox
Considered an unlikely choice for CEO at the time, Anne Mulcahy ran Xerox from August 2001 to June 2009. Praised for her focus on innovation, she quickly boosted company profits.
In 2000, Xerox lost $273 million. When Mulcahy took over in 2001, the company had more than $17 billion in debt and was nearing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. She immediately employed cost-cutting measures but remained focused on research and development. Under Mulcahy’s watch, the company generated $91 million in net income by 2002, which rose to $1.1 billion by 2007.
Bernard Ebbers: WorldCom
Bernard Ebbers was the CEO of WorldCom Inc. from 1985 to 2002. In March 2004, he was charged with conspiracy and securities fraud for his participation in a scandal to falsely inflate WorldCom common stock prices from September 2000 to June 2002.
The scheme totaled $11 billion in fraud and Ebbers was found guilty on nine counts of accounting fraud. He began serving a 25-year prison sentence in September 2006.
Previously the second-largest long-distance phone company in the U.S., WorldCom filed for bankruptcy in 2002 due to the scandal. The company changed its name to MCI in 2003 and Verizon bought it for $6.8 billion in 2006.
Gordon Bethune: Continental Airlines
United Airlines purchased Continental Airlines for $3.2 billion in 2010, but the end of the company’s era had nothing to do with Gordon Bethune. Serving as the CEO from 1994 to 2004, he revived the failing carrier.
In a 2015 interview with Forbes, Bethune cited poor management as the reason for the airline’s consistently low customer satisfaction ratings when he took the helm. He said he turned the airline into the highest-rated among passengers by making it a better place to work.
Continental lost roughly $600 million in 1994 but earned $225 million in 1995, according to Bethune. He credited the shift to a focus on employee satisfaction initiatives, including treating staffers right, getting to know them and earning their trust.
Robert Nardelli: Home Depot
Robert Nardelli had a good first five years as Home Depot's CEO. When he joined the company in 2000, annual sales were $46 billion and they rose to $81.5 billion in 2005.
The housing slowdown in 2006 stalled sales and the retailer’s stock price tumbled to just more than $40 per share — around the same place it was at when he started. Investors began to get frustrated with Nardelli’s $200 million pay package and felt it wasn’t aligned with his performance.
Nardelli was willing to give up his guaranteed $3 million bonus but refused to take a pay cut. Wall Street cheered his January 2007 departure because analysts believed investors were not confident in his leadership abilities. The company’s net sales reached $94.6 billion in 2016, which indicates Nardelli is long-forgotten.
Marvin Ellison: J.C. Penney
Since stepping into the role of J.C. Penney CEO in August 2015, Marvin Ellison has been working hard to revive the struggling retailer. In 2016, the company had a positive net income for the first time since 2010, generating $514 million more in total earnings than in 2015.
In an effort to boost sales, Ellison rearranged outdated store layouts, pairing complementary products together, like men’s suits and shoes. He has also overhauled the company’s merchandise and is working to improve its operations, strategy and technology.
Steve Ballmer: Microsoft
When Bill Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO to focus on philanthropy in 2000, Steve Ballmer assumed the role. In September 2000 the tech company was valued at $642 billion, but by the time he left in February 2014, it was worth only approximately $315 billion.
A lack of innovation and slew of flopped initiatives — including the Windows phone, Bing and Microsoft Surface devices — made it impossible for the company to keep up with competitors like Apple and Google.
The Ballmer effect doesn’t appear to have left a permanent mark on Microsoft. Under the direction of current CEO Satya Narayana Nadella, its value topped $500 billion in January 2017 — the first time since 2000.
Alan Mulally: Ford
Credited as the man who saved Ford, Allan Mulally took control of the company in 2006. That year alone, the troubled automaker lost $12.7 billion.
To make change happen, Mulally worked hard to shift the cutthroat company culture to one based on collaboration and efficiency. He also mortgaged $23.5 billion in company assets to create a cash infusion to revive Ford’s vehicle roster. When Mulally retired from Ford in 2014, it had a net income of nearly $3.2 billion.
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