At a time like this it's important to underscore what should be obvious: that there are plenty of good CEOs who play by the rules. They do good for shareholders and employees while being ethical and responsible. What sets these executives apart is a willingness to defy Wall Street's pressures, a long-term commitment to the company, a self-effacing approach to the job, and a measured view of their worth.
The good-guy CEOs, by and large, don't use a Wall Street-style financial model to pump up their companies' performance. They don't count on huge numbers of mergers and acquisitions for quick revenue expansion. Instead, they look to internal, organic growth to boost profits. BusinessWeek focuses on six of them.
The good CEOs innovate a lot, but mostly from within. They favor incremental improvements over time and watch the pennies. They don't engage in fancy financial engineering, either; their balance sheets are relatively clean. These CEOs get paid well, but it won't make them billionaires. Their boards give them stock options but in relatively modest amounts. These CEOs are also loyal. They aren't free agents jumping from one company to another. A CEO in 2001 was in office an average of three years. The good CEOs have been at their companies far longer.
In a post-bubble, post-September 11 America, this set of chief executives provides a collective role model for the new group of leaders who are beginning to replace the old guard of the '90s. They exhibit restraint, commitment, and fortitude. They instill trust. They are examples for the future.