Why No CEO Hall of Fame?

January 9, 2014 by Douglas A. McIntyre

Baseball writers recently put three players into the Hall of Fame. The voters were 571 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. There is no CEO Hall of Fame picked by writers from business magazines, websites, television business shows, or newspapers. However, there should be.

There are several CEO of the Year awards. But they are chosen by the editors of a small number of magazines and websites. There is no consistency among them. A few are no better than popularity contests. Most only cover the successes of the most recent year of a chief executive officer’s tenure. Almost none, if any, look back over a CEO’s entire career and what he or she has done for shareholders, customers, employees and the communities a company serves.

One criticism of a CEO Hall of Fame would be that it would not provide much of a service. That is not entirely true, if it is true at all. There is a difference between Bill Gates of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE: ANF). Jeffries has gone a long way to ruin a great brand, and he has been paid tens of millions of dollars in the process. Gates continues to be considered one of the great business innovators of the past hundred years.

The major purpose of any Hall of Fame is to memorialize great achievements so that people can review the careers of high achievers long after those careers have ended. It gives potential candidates something to work for because the Hall of Fame endures longer than the lives of its members do. Additionally, the careers of the candidates would give current and future CEOs something to strive for beyond annual pay and a few good quarters of results. Most CEOs are neither very good nor very bad at their jobs. However, mediocrity is often rewarded, at least financially. That means mediocrity can have its own substantial rewards.

The history of American business and the existence of modern American CEO has lasted at least since Alfred Sloan took over as president of General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) in 1923. Sloan’s career is generally credited as the paradigm of the chief executive’s job as it is today. So, there are nine decades against which CEOs can be measured.

The tenures of CEOs are judged by biographers and the reflections of the employees, shareholders and journalists who followed them. Such a confusion of opinions does not leave much that allows one CEO to be compared to all others. A more objective evaluation, judged by experts, would at least create a yardstick that could be used year to year and decade to decade, as well as give some reasonable means of lauding excellence.