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4 Great CEOs and 1 Who Missed the Boat

Molly McCluskey and Foolish Team Norse
November 11, 2011

We Fools don't always agree (hardly ever, really), so when a group of us attempted to pull together a list of our favorite CEOs, it was no surprise that we didn't all agree with each other's choices. But we did find that some of the same names kept surfacing, and we realized that although we didn't agree on who the great leaders were, we could agree on what made a leader great. And then we stumbled upon the one trait that no one could argue.

Let's take a look at what the members of our roundtable had to say.

Carl Hendley: Great CEOs say no to heroin
When asked why he doesn't raise prices a modest 3% on Costco's (Nasdaq: COST  ) 55 million customers, CEO Jim Sinegal responded, "It's like heroin: You do a little and you want a little bit more." It's little wonder that 87% of members renew.

Costco's employees are sticking around, too. With wages averaging $18 an hour and health benefits for nearly all, Costco boasts the lowest employee turnover in the industry, which keeps its labor costs lower than its rivals.

All of this focus on customers and employees is great, but what about shareholders? A picture is worth a thousand words.

It's a simple formula, really -- take equal care of your customers, employees, and shareholders, and stay off the smack, and you become the model for excellent stewardship and profitable long-term thinking in an increasingly short-term society.

Molly McCluskey: And yes to a double shot of caffeinated passion (with whip)
Since Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) CEO Howard Schultz returned to lead the saucy siren in 2009, the stock price has gone on a tear. With a P/E of 27, Starbucks does look expensive compared with rival Caribou Coffee (Nasdaq: CBOU ), which has a P/E of 8, but it still looks cheap next to Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR  ) ,with its P/E of 32, down from 89 earlier in the year.

Since its first dividend in April 2010, the company has paid out quarterly, increasing from $0.10 to $0.13. It continues to perform strongly against other dividend-paying coffee stocks. Sure, Schultz's Starbucks memoir, Onward, reads like a self-serving lovefest, but you can't question the man's passion, his role in revolutionizing how we drink coffee, or his ability to sustain a thriving gourmet brand in a tough economy.

Rob Runett: Relentless innovation doesn't hurt, either
Jeff Bezos of (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) is a leader who relentlessly innovates and disintermediates other businesses at every turn, and still manages to store a few tricks up his sleeve. Bezos has reshaped not only retailing (online and off), but media, publishing, and entertainment as well.

Does anyone still think of Amazon as an online bookstore? Since those quaint early days, it's become the first -- and, in some cases, only -- shopping destination for millions of consumers. The product categories are nearly limitless thanks to affiliate relationships with partner sites and i