Article, Learn from Harvard Business Review’s Top 100 CEO’s by Sharon Graham :

Learn from Harvard Business Review’s Top 100 CEO’s
Sharon Graham, CPRW, CEIP, CRS, CIS

In the January-February issue of their magazine, Harvard Business Review released their list of top 100 CEOs. The report ranked 2000 CEO’s worldwide on a variety of criteria to determine who has done the best job running their company during their entire time in the role. The top 50 CEOs produced excellent results over the long term. They delivered an average shareholder return of 997% during their time in office, an annual return of 32% increasing shareholder wealth on average by $48.2 billion.

The top 100 performers came from many countries and eight Canadians ranked. These CEOs are:

1. William J. Doyle, PotashCorp, Materials. Ranked 14
2. John C.S. Lau, Husky Energy, Energy. Ranked 30
3. Michael A. Grandin, Fording Canadian Coal Trust, Materials. Ranked 52
4. Ronald Alvin Brenneman, Petro-Canada, Energy. Ranked 56
5. Timothy Hearn, Imperial Oil, Energy. Ranked 60
6. Gordon M. Nixon, Royal Bank of Canada, Financial Services. Ranked 89
7. Sean Boyd, Agnico-Eagle Mines, Materials. Ranked 94
8. Gerald W. Grandey, Cameco, Energy. Ranked 100

In general, the study offered a number of interesting findings. Here are some of my own thoughts on how Canadian executives can benefit by using this information in their own career development.

Investigate opportunities for promotion before embarking on a career transition.

In today’s labour market, corporate loyalty is hard to find. If you are currently considering career options, it may be prudent to consider promotions within your company before starting a job search outside the company. The Harvard study found that CEOs who were promoted from within their companies performed better than those retained from outside the organization. This seems to suggest that company insiders may offer better value than outsiders. Terminating employees and retaining new people is an expensive option for most companies.

The current economy is a concern for many executives. If you regularly work to make your corporate achievements visible, you can improve your chances of being retained and promoted in this volatile market.

Consider transitioning out of declining industries and into emerging ones.

It would come as no surprise that seven of the eight top Canadian CEOs came from emerging industries. In Canada, it is clear that the energy and materials industry are thriving and growing in this economy. When looking at the success of all the CEOs listed globally, in general, industry seems to matter. CEOs from some sectors such as energy, telecommunications, health-care equipment and providers, retailing, and information technology seem to have done better in the rankings than those from industries such as automobile, automotive-components, and media. If you are considering transitioning out of your industry, research and investigate the potential of penetrating some of the emerging industries.

Take professional development seriously to progress in the executive ranks.

The findings of the Harvard review suggest that CEOs with an MBA tended to rank better than the non-MBAs. Higher academic credentials may be more valuable than otherwise believed. This finding may be controversial; when we analyse the background of the top two Canadians, both did not have MBAs. Regardless, in this economic environment, it is in your best interest to pursue ongoing educational credentials and professional development as a career development strategy.

Tackle bigger challenges to reap greater rewards.
If you are in career transition, do not be afraid to accept a position where there are big challenges. Many of the top ranked CEOs listed in the review turned around organizations that performed poorly prior to their entry. The organizations that were strong to begin with did not allow for as much potential for the CEO. Therefore, I would suggest that if you want to create big results and gain more visibility, it is in your best interest to take on big challenges fearlessly and work hard to produce exceptional results.

When it comes to executive career development, keeping your finger on the pulse of the market is key. Graham Management Group’s OUTLOOK 2010 Survey: Competitive Career Intelligence for Six-Figure Canadians assessed the competitive career and job search landscape and identifies strategies for Canadians in the $100k+ salary bracket. When asked, “What are the obstacles to achieving your career goals in 2010 and beyond?” the professionals surveyed were surprisingly candid. The top challenges and barriers to their career development included:

  • The current economic situation across the nation.
  • An overall discomfort in six-figure job search strategy, networking, and cold calling.
  • Age discrimination against highly qualified professionals competing with younger candidates.
  • Lack of educational background and academic credentials.
  • Not enough time available to dedicate to career development strategies.

The survey summary addresses these concerns and brings many more insights to the forefront. You can request a complimentary advance copy of the OUTLOOK 2010 Survey Summary by emailing

Harvard Business Review’s complete report can be found here:

Sharon Graham is Canada’s Career Strategist and Higher Bracket’s principal résumé expert. A recognized career transition expert, she is president and principal consultant for Graham Management Group, founder and executive director of Career Professionals of Canada, and author of Best Canadian Resumes. With multiple certifications in résumé, interview, and career strategy, Sharon has elevated the industry by delivering cutting-edge innovations to résumé writers and career practitioners across Canada. She assists six-figure job seekers though her consulting firm Graham Management Group, You can reach Sharon by e-mailing


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