The Least Powerful CEOs in America

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1. Walmart
> Name: Michael Duke (Age: 62)
> Title: Chief Executive
> Controlling Shareholder: The Walton family
> Controlling Block: The 49.5% of “direct” and “indirect” voting shares

Michael Duke is in enough trouble already. He has only been Walmart’s CEO since early 2009, when the company pushed out H. Lee Scott, Jr., who is still on the board. Over the past two weeks, a huge bribery scandal at the corporation’s Mexico operations has begun to threaten the company’s image. The scandal may make it harder for the world’s largest retailer to do business in several countries, including the United States. Walmart has begun to move into large cities, a move local retailers often resist. The Mexico scandal will give these smaller retailers more firepower as they lobby local government. A number of shareholders and activist groups have called for Duke and Walmart chairman S. Robson Walton to step down. Walton can resist the requests because of his family’s control of the corporation. Duke is a likely candidate to be sacrificed because he allegedly knew about the trouble in Mexico. Walmart’s CEO is among the most visible in the world. The retailer employs 2.2 million people around the world and is one of its largest companies based on revenue, which should reach $450 billion this year. Even if Duke is forced to leave, he has had some good years financially. His compensation in each of the past three fiscal years has been more than $18 million.

2. Nike
> Name: Mark G. Parker (Age: 56)
> Title: Chief Executive
> Controlling Shareholder: Philip Knight, founder and chairman
> Controlling Block: 74.6% of Class A, 17.8% of Class B

Mark Parker, 55, has been the CEO of Nike (NYSE: NKE) since 2006. Philip Knight, the company’s founder and board member since 1968, must like what Parker has accomplished because Knight has voting control of the company. Since Parker took over, annual revenue has gone from $15 billion to $20.8 billion. Net income has increased from $1.4 billion to $2.1 billion. Nike’s share price has risen more than 150% over the same period. It has continued to consolidate its position at the top of the sports apparel and footwear market in the past half decade. Well-regarded research firm Morningstar recently wrote: “Nike remains the largest and most dominant player in the athletic footwear and apparel category, which it has helped revolutionize during the last 40 years.” Parker has only been paid modestly to run a company with sales as large as Nike’s. He made $11.3 million last year and $13.2 million in 2010. The importance of Knight’s holdings is indicated in Nike’s 10-K filed with the SEC: “The sale of a large number of shares held by our Chairman could depress the market price of our common stock.” Nike has 485 million shares outstanding.

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3. Dish Network
> Name: Joseph P. Clayton (Age: 62)
> Title: Director, President, and Chief Executive
> Controlling Shareholder: Charles W. Ergen
> Controlling Block: 98.2% of Class B common

Charles Ergen cofounded Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) with his wife, Cantey Ergen, and James DeFranco, in 1980. Together they own a 98% controlling block. Joseph Clayton, who has been the company’s CEO since mid-2011, is an industry veteran. He was paid $9.8 million for the year. Clayton has been chairman of Sirius XM (NASDAQ: SIRI) and sat on the board of directors of EchoStar (NASDAQ: SATS). Like cable, satellite television was introduced in the 1980s as an alternative to major TV network programming. Dish and DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) have been the two successes that emerged from 30 years of company launches, failures and mergers. The Dish subscriber count is currently just short of 14 million. The key to success in the industry has been breadth of programming. Dish has 230 basic video channels, a large number of premium sports and movie packages, and more than 3,000 local channels. Clayton appears to be the right choice to run the company at the right time. His background in satellite delivery and content acquisition is essential to the video-program-to-the-home industry, which has become extremely crowded in the past five years. Both the large telephone companies and startups like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) compete directly now with the cable and satellite incumbents.