Back in 2001, Taylor Hawkins, the drummer in the band Foo Fighters, suffered a heroin overdose while touring in England. He spent 12 days in a London hospital, comatose. The group’s founder, Dave Grohl, put everything on hold to sit at his bedside. His selflessness earned Hawkins’ loyalty. “He’s the greatest leader there is in rock and roll, period,” the drummer told Rolling Stone in 2014.
Reading Hawkins’ comments in the music magazine, I thought: There’s a lesson here—and it’s not just for rock stars. He might not lead a corporation—although the Foo Fighters have earned over US$200 million from tour revenue alone—but read any article on Grohl, and it’s clear he understands how to motivate a team. In that same Rolling Stone piece, guitarist Pat Smear says: “Dave has a vision… Our job is to meet that vision or do something that exceeds it.”
When we relaunched Report on Business two years ago with a focus on management strategy, one of our guiding principles was that valuable lessons can be gleaned from leaders at different stages of their careers, at different companies and even in entirely different sectors. A bank CEO can still learn something from, say, a railroader, a restaurant magnate or a guitar god.
That’s also a central tenet of our annual CEO of the Year awards. Like all of our reward programs—including our recently published Top Wealth Advisors ranking or our list of the fastest growing companies—these picks were determined by a process led by our editorial team, without interference from advertisers. You simply can’t buy your way onto one of our lists—that’s not how we operate.
One recurring theme among this year’s winners is how much these CEOs focus on their teams. They don’t all sound like fun bosses—getting a 2 a.m. phone call from CP’s Keith Creel is likely an intense experience. But from Paramount CEO Mohamad Fakih’s vocal advocacy for his diverse workforce to Ssense’s Rami Atallah tasking a wide swath of his employees with identifying hot designers, it’s clear these executives think deeply about how to lead their teams. After Creel’s successful bid for Kansas City Southern, he quickly arranged a dinner for the two companies’ executives. It was a recognition that harmony between the crews is crucial for success. The management writer Tom Peters once said, “If you take a leadership job, you do people. Period.” Our CEOs of the Year are all bosses who understand that job description.
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