BusinessWeek's annual list of the best managers of the year is an impressive roster of high achievers. Some made their organizations more effective and efficient, while others succeeded in bold new ventures. Among those who executed well were banking merger ace G. Kennedy Thompson, CEO of Wachovia Corp. (WB); George David, the quiet chief of surprisingly successful United Technologies Corp. (UTX); and William McGuire, who has diversified and expanded insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH). Their peerless management skills were exceptionally useful during the period of retrenchment that began in 2000.
As for the bold, Intel Corp. (INTC) CEO Craig R. Barrett has to head the list. Three years ago, heading into what became the worst semiconductor slump ever, Barrett bravely began pouring $28 billion into plant construction and research. That gave Intel the capacity and products it needed to cash in on the rebound: Earnings rose 60% in 2003.
Barrett hasn't been alone in taking chances. Steven P. Jobs used music -- specifically the iTunes online store -- to rejuvenate Apple Computer Inc., while simultaneously boosting Pixar's string of animated movie successes. Biochemist Arthur D. Levinson, CEO of Genentech Inc. (DNA), ignored Wall Street analysts' advice and pushed ahead with Avastin as a treatment for colon cancer. Now it looks like a blockbuster. And New York native Rose Marie Bravo dared a hip makeover of venerable British retailer Burberry Group, coming out with plaid bikinis and a gotta-have $1,095 fuchsia trench coat.
Solid execution will always be prized. But as the economy gains momentum, fortune will increasingly favor those bold CEOs who rediscover what John Maynard Keynes called their "animal spirits." Happy New Year.