MarketWatch tapped its annual "CEO of the Year" last week, with Hasbro's Brian Goldner taking top honors.
Goldner is certainly worthy. He is the one who brokered the deals to get the toymaker's properties like last year's Transformers and next year's G.I. Joe transformed into licensed theatrical releases. Hasbro has also trounced earnings expectations in each of the past six quarters, no easy feat in this tricky climate.
However, is he really the best choice here? The Transformers tie-in should have made him a contender last year. Hasbro's performance in 2008 has been somewhat ho-hum. Net revenue and earnings are up 10% and 7% respectively through the first nine months of the year. Even in its niche, it's not the only growing toymaker. JAKKS Pacific
Hasbro is good. Goldner is great. I just don't know if I would call him the great-est CEO this year.
5 CEOs who got robbed
So who is more golden than Goldner? I thought you'd never ask. Let's go over a few corporate chieftains that have either thrived in harsher conditions or have tactfully positioned their companies to make the most of the moment.
MarketWatch tapped Skinner as its CEO for 2007. What's wrong with a repeat performance? If Florida's Tim Tebow can start stacking Heisman trophies, why not Skinner? McDonald's has excelled in 2008, with accelerating comps and explosive profitability. Earnings for the Golden Arches are projected to climb 25% this year. It is one of the few consumer-facing companies where analysts are actually jacking up their estimates in recent months.
How can anyone not be in awe of the job that Hurd has done since taking over at HP? He arrived three years ago at a divisive company that was in shambles. Its flagship printing division was the only thing running well at the time. Hurd has managed to turn it all around. He has managed to widen margins with every passing quarter and is thriving at a time when most PC makers are struggling. The icing on the award cake should have been last month's surprise, when HP bucked its sector's malaise by pre-announcing better than expected results.
Kotick made the cut as a finalist this year, but he certainly could have taken top honors. In a video gaming industry where at least one huge potential merger collapsed, he quietly pulled off the combination with World of Warcraft parent Blizzard Entertainment to become the industry's largest player. The company behind the niche-defining Guitar Hero franchise is certainly rocking, as the high-margin software giant gears up for even juicier margins in digital delivery.
Netflix faced a bigger threat than Hasbro will likely ever face -- the obsolescence of its own model -- by aggressively expanding in digital video streaming. Knocking out the competition by offering its PC streaming service at no additional charge, the DVD rental giant has been cutting a ton of deals in 2008 with popular home theater gadget makers to bridge the gap between the Web and the living room television. Netflix is looking to close out the year with at least 8.85 million subscribers, growing at a time when many consumer services are getting canceled.
Like Kotick, Kelly also made the finalist cut at MarketWatch, and rightfully so. As most legacy carriers -- and even the nimbler upstarts -- saw their profits crater under the grim double-whammy of soaring jet fuel prices and falling ridership, Southwest thrived. A combination of fuel hedges and its lean cost structure makes Southwest a natural to take off during good times and opportunistically swipe market share when things go bad.
Barely scratching the surface
I'll leave it here, though I could easily keep going. It's OK. It's your turn now. MarketWatch had its say last week. I spoke my piece now. What do you think? Who should be the CEO of 2008? Post your compelling arguments in the comment boxes below and I will come back in a few days to pay my respects.
As bad as 2008 has been, there really are a lot of CEOs out there who truly earned their keep.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders how long the list for worst CEOs will be this year. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story, save for Netflix. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy, batteries not included.