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Best Asian CEOs in the world by Harvard Business Review

Best Asian CEOs in the world by Harvard Business Review

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The Harvard Business Review (“HBR”) publishes a list of top 100 CEOs in the world every year. In judging the quality of CEOs around the world, HBR focuses on the “results they produce over their entire tenure” based on objective data.They analyze various metrics like long-term shareholder return and environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance to arrive at the best performing CEO’s in the world. Our readers in Asia might wonder, how many of them are Asians? What do they do and what are their backgrounds? We have the answer for you.

Ten out of Hundred CEOs in the Ranking Are Asians

Of the 100 CEOs that were ranked by HBR, 10 were Asians, though only 8 were actually working at a Asian companies. The highest ranked was Jen-Hsun Huang oat NVIDIA, the famous graphic chipmaker based in the US.

Among executives located in Asia, Terry Gou of Hon Hai Precision was the top ranked at #40. He has been with the company since 1974 and his tenure of 42 years was second only to Li Ka-Shing who founded his company CK Hutchinson in 1950 shortly after the world war.

HBR RankingNameCompanyCountrySinceIndustry
6Jen-Hsun HuangNVIDIAUSA1993Information Technology
38Hock TanBroadcomUSA2006Information Technology
40Tai-Ming “Terry” GouHon Hai PrecisionTaiwan1974Information Technology
45Huateng “Pony” MaTencentHong Kong1998Information Technology
46Tadashi YanaiFast RetailingJapan1984Retail
73Masayoshi SonSoftbankJapan1981Telecommunication
81Wing Kin “Alfred” ChanHong Kong and China GasHong Kong1997Utilities
83Tsai Ming-KaiMediatekTaiwan1997Information Technology
87Haruo NaitoEisaiJapan1998Health Care
97Li Ka-ShingCk Hutchinson HoldingsHong Kong1950Industrials

While 10 may not sound like it’s a lot, readers should not that there were only 7 Asian executives in the same ranking by HBR in 2015, of which only 6 were in Asian companies. As Asia continues to be the engine of global economic growth, it seems that an increasing number of companies and executives are gaining influence and recognition in the global business world.

True to HBR’s commitment to “objective metrics,” these CEOs have generated amazing shareholder returns over the years. For instance, NVIDIA stock has returned 376% in the last five years excluding dividends, while Tencent has returned 470%. On average, these ten executives have returned 166% over the last 5 years excluding dividends, as opposed to 70% by S&P 500 and 83% by Nikkei 300.

Name5-Yr Stock Return
Jen-Hsun Huang376%
Hock Tan393%
Tai-Ming “Terry” Gou0%
Huateng “Pony” Ma470%
Tadashi Yanai170%
Masayoshi Son158%
Wing Kin “Alfred” Chan35%
Tsai Ming-Kai-26%
Haruo Naito121%
Li Ka-Shing-37%
Average166%
S&P 50070%
HSI16%
Nikkei 30083%
TPE22%
S&P Global 120040%

Lastly, it’s worth noting that all of these CEOs came from the US, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. There was no executive representation from countries like South Korea, China, or SE Asia. This may be because of various factors like corporate governance of maturity of the markets.

For instance, Korean companies have long traded at discount to peers because of corporate structures that allow “chaebols” to do anything they want with their companies. Similarly, many of the large companies in China are state owned enterprises that don’t always take shareholder friendly actions.

Seven Technology Executives, Zero Women

It’s interesting to note that seven of the ten executives in this series were involved in some form of technology driven sector. The exceptions included Fast Retailing, Hong Kong and China Gas Company, and Eisai. Although Softbank and CK Hutchinson Holdings are not necessarily “tech” companies, they are both well known for their savvy investments in various tech startups like Facebook and Alibaba.

Also of note, there were only 2 women in the top 100 CEOs in the world, and none of them were women. This reflects the unfortunate reality that still exists in the world that women simply haven’t had enough opportunities.

Two MBA’s, Nine Insiders

Among the top 100 executives selected by HBR, only 24 had an MBA and 84 were insiders. This is even more accentuated for Asian CEOs, of whom only 2 had an MBA degree and 9 were insiders. Apparently, an MBA is not quite enough to get you the top job in companies and help you perform well. There is a logical explanation for the apparent disconnect between the perceived value of an MBA degree and its lack of evidence among the top executives in the world.

Given that best CEOs tend to be insiders who own meaningful amount of their companies’ stocks and hence have aligned interest with shareholders, they simply are more motivated to make the long-term decisions instead of chasing after short-term gains.

On the other hand, an MBA degree does not seem to help you much in becoming a great business leader, especially if your interests are not aligned with long-term opportunities. Investors and professionals both should take such a lesson to heart. Data seems to suggest that long-term performance of a company is more dependent on the motivations of executives as opposed to their education level.

HBR RankingNameCompanyMBAInsider
6Jen-Hsun HuangNVIDIANY
38Hock TanBroadcomYN
40Tai-Ming “Terry” GouHon Hai PrecisionNY
45Huateng “Pony” MaTencentNY
46Tadashi YanaiFast RetailingNY
73Masayoshi SonSoftbankNY
81Wing Kin “Alfred” ChanHong Kong and China GasNY
83Tsai Ming-KaiMediatekNY
87Haruo NaitoEisaiYY
97Li Ka-ShingCk Hutchinson HoldingsNY

When investing in companies, it is crucial to recognize the important roles played by the executives of companies. CEOs’s decisions have a lasting impact because they decide how much capital to deploy on which projects. While some projects can have decent returns, others can create an enormous amount of value for shareholders (or destroy the company).

For instance, just imagine what Apple might be today if Steve Jobs was not there to invest in iPods and iPhones, and how Microsoft has changed since Satya Nadella has taken over the company. CEOs listed above definitely has the track record to show that they’ve created more value than the average executive over a long period of time.

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ValuePenguin is personal finance company based in New York. DJ is responsible for building ValuePenguin’s presence in Asia, from researching personal finance topics in the region to building relationships with financial and media institutions. He previously worked as an investment analyst at leading hedge funds in New York including Cadian Capital and Tiger Asia. His expertise is in the global technology, consumer and financial industries. He graduated from Yale University with a degree in Economics, and speaks Korean, English and Mandarin Chinese.

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