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Jeff Bezos, John Idol Make First ‘Best CEO’s’ List

Ron Johnson, Edward S. Lampert among those on long-running worst CEO’s list.

Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and Michael Kors Holdings Ltd.’s John Idol both found a home on Sydney Finkelstein’s first list of best chief executive officers of the year.

This story first appeared in the December 18, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Finkelstein, professor of management and associate dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, has long issued an annual worst ceo’s list. This year, both former J.C. Penney Co. Inc. chief Ron Johnson and Sears Holdings Corp. ceo Edward S. Lampert qualified for worst-of mentions.

In an interview Webcast on Yahoo, Finkelstein cited Bezos’ “unbelievable focus on customers” and “nonstop innovation” for his selection as the best ceo of the year. The educator also pointed out that Bezos is setting Amazon on a collision course with the fashion industry, which Finkelstein considers “rife for disruption….No one is better at it than Amazon.”

Citing Michael Kors’ successful initial public offering two years ago and stock appreciation since, Finkelstein credited Idol with bringing the company “open-mindedness, debate and discussion” and an ability to “break down the silos” in plotting the company’s course.

The other outstanding ceo’s for the year were Akio Toyoda of Toyota and Pony Ma of Tencent in China.

Johnson took second place to Eike Batista of Brazil’s EBX/OGX/OSX among the list of worst ceo’s. He was described by Finkelstein as among the worst ceo’s of the decade for making the fatal mistake of thinking that, as was the case with Johnson’s stewardship of Apple’s retail operations, there was no need to discount because people “are in line for your products.”

“It’s almost like he fired his customers,” Finkelstein said.

Lampert was faulted for following “a classic financial strategy at Sears” in which one cuts costs, sells off assets and then buys back stock. He acknowledged that Sears’ real estate still has value but that, with the stock off 70 percent from its highs of a few years ago, there’s no advantage in buying it back.

He referred to Lampert as “the anti-Mickey Drexler,” contrasting the Sears ceo’s lack of understanding of merchandising, his customers and of “how to manage the stores” with the superior instincts and insights of the J. Crew Group Inc. ceo.

Thorsten Heins, now ousted ceo of Blackberry Ltd., qualified as the third worst ceo in Finkelstein’s ranking, between Johnson and Lampert.