We remember reaching a point around 2003 when we were completely sick of reading about Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, Enron’s wayward executives. Enough with the stories of scoundrel CEOs, we said. Boy, was that naive. Enron was just the tip of a dirty, dishonest iceberg. The banking debacle introduced us to a whole new crop of shady businesspractices and practitioners. Since the well of unethical CEOs is apparently bottomless, we’ve compiled our 10 picks for the gentlemen of the corporate world who make us proud to be capitalists.
Howard Schultz first made waves in August 2011 by urging his fellow American CEOs to stop donating to politicians until they start running the government like a successful business. In other words, not living beyond their means. The next month he was back in the news announcing a partnership with nonpartisan group No Labelsto host a national telephone forum for ordinary Americans to come together to try to find solutions for the nation’s problems. The next month: a plan to facilitate “Americans helping Americans.” Called the Create Jobs for USA program, customer donations would combine with loans from microlenders to help fund small businesses in America.
Steinhafel became CEO of Target in 2008, the year the Great Recession began to set in. But despite sinking sales figures, Steinhafel chose to continue the retailer’s longstanding practice of donating 5% of the company’s earnings to charity. He has also had the opportunity to prove his moral fiber thanks to an in-house dispute with a major stockholder and acontroversy over a donation to an anti-gay politician. Steinhafel protected the shareholders by winning the battle but still shook hands with the combative shareholder. And to prove Target’s commitment to gay rights, he approved an increase in donations to gay rights groups to more than half a million dollars in 2011.
After selling his company LinkExchange to Microsoft in 2009, Tony Hsieh realized that happiness meant more than having money. He has made it his mission since becoming the chief exec of online retailer Zappos to do everything in his power to ensure employee and customer happiness. He even wrote a bookon the subject. Today Zappos is famous for its great employee culture and its equally great customer service. He formed a company called Delivering Happiness, based on the book’s title, to help people find their own passion and turn it into profit.
The winner of a slew of awards like “Executive of the Year” and “Most Respected CEO,” Jim Skinner is a company chief who turned his collar from blue to white through hard work and a focus on customers. After 10 years in the Navy, Skinner returned home to Illinois in 1971 to work as a McDonald’s restaurant manager. He worked his way to CEO in 2004 and led the company to a 40% earnings bump in four years thanks to zeroing in on value and service. Now he is steering McDonald’s toward healthier food options for kids and programs like National Hiring Day, which saw much-needed jobs offered to 60,000 Americans.
When corporations and governments run into sticky ethical situations, they call Michael Hershman and The Fairfax Group. The president and CEO of the well-known risk management consulting firm, Hershman is considered a leader on corporate transparency and accountability. He has advised countries like India and Chile on matters of ethics. In 1993 he co-foundedTransparency International, a worldwide, not-for-profit group designed to fight corruption in government, business, and society. In 2011, Hershman was brought in to help monitor the FIFA World Cup selection committee after a bribery scandal rocked the soccer world.
As a provider of outdoor wear, Patagonia has a vested interest in protecting the environment. Still, it goes above and beyond what could be considered simple due diligence from a business standpoint. The company’s Environmental Grants Program has given $22 million to conservation causes since being created in 1985. Casey Sheahan is a perfect fit for such a company. With his wife, Sheahan formed the Conscious Global Leadership Institute to “share best inner practices for inspired, heart-centered leadership.” On his watch, Patagonia Fishing and Patagonia Footwear joined 1% for the Planet, a group of companies that pledge at least 1% of all annual sales to promoting conservationism.
Technically, Gary Hirshberg is not a CEO. On Jan. 23, 2012, he stepped down as the chief executive of Stonyfield Farms, the biggest producer of organic yogurt in the world, after 29 years at the helm. Hirshberg started the company with one question in mind: “Is it possible to create an enterprise where everybody wins?” The “CE-Yo” as he was known was a proponent of corporate sustainability when few people had even heard the term. In 2008 he penned Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World. Although the company will keep Hirshberg’s philosophy of “healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet,” his is a voice that will be sorely missed in corporate ethics.
Kenneth Chenault rose to the top of the corporate ladder at AmEx by remembering what his father told him: “Focus on the things that you can control, and the only thing that you can control is your performance.” Chenault’s tremendous work ethic helped him excavate AmEx from the slump it was in when he took over in January 2001. When planes hit the World Trade Center buildings across the street from AmEx’s headquarters, Chenault saw to it that stranded cardholders found rides home, and he later OK’ed the donation of $1 million to the families of AmEx employees lost that day.
Profits have grown nearly tenfold since Dan Amos took the helm at Aflac way back in 1990. Ninety-nine out of 100 CEOs would use that as justification to raise their salaries tenfold as well. Not Dan Amos: hevolunteeredto allow shareholders to vote on the executive compensation plan, the first major U.S. corporation to ever do so. The same year, he was awarded the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Corporate Citizenship Award. Aflac is widely recognized as one of the best American companies to work for, largely due to Amos’ leadership that fosters ethical business practices with social responsibilities. As just one example, he has overseen the donation of $50 million to the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
For better or worse, as the country’s biggest company, what Wal-Mart does sets the trend for the rest of the retailers in America. Recently Wal-Mart has been making promising strides to benefit consumers under Duke’s leadership. The company recently announceda plan to reduce salt, fat, and sugar contents in its food, as well as lower prices on fruits and vegetables. First Lady Michelle Obama has lent her support to Wal-Mart’s effort as part of her program to fight childhood obesity, the first such time she has partnered with a single company.