A CEO can make or break a company. Consider Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) ascent following Steve Jobs' return from exile in 1996. Or Netflix's (Nasdaq: NFLX) descent following Reed Hastings' late-night email announcing the now-defunct Qwikster service.

Despite the importance, however, it's frustratingly difficult to quantify the value of a CEO's contribution to his or her company. For example, who's to say that Costco's Jim Sinegal is any more or less valuable than Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos?

Enter Chiefist.com.

Chiefist is a new member-based service that seeks to do just that. It analyzes data on CEO compensation and company performance, and then ranks companies according to management quality.

After taking the service for a proverbial test-drive, I wanted to share some of the insights I've gained from it with all of you in outer Fooldom.

What follows is the first in a series of three Chiefist screens aimed at identifying the 10 best CEOs over the past decade. (Click here to read Part 2.)

The screen in this first article ranks CEOs according to Chiefist's proprietary share price formula -- which, as I understand it, approximates total share price appreciation for the chosen time period (in this case, the past 10 years). As you'll see in the table below, this list contains a number of both usual and unusual suspects.

As a side note, I also included a column for each company's compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the same time period as a check on the data. While they don't match up exactly, there's no question that all of these CEOs have reigned over massive share price appreciation.

Rank

CEO

Company

Industry

2010 Total Compensation

10-Year CAGR

1 Steve Jobs* Apple IT hardware $1 45.6%
2 John Pinkerton Range Resources Energy exploration $6,633,977 37.6%
3 Jeff Bezos Amazon E-commerce $1,681,840 41.0%
4 Lew Frankfort Coach (NYSE: COH) Apparel, accessories, and luxury goods $13,739,110 32.3%
5 Reed Hastings Netflix E-commerce $5,516,633 29.9%**
6 Tim Solso Cummins (NYSE: CMI) Heavy equipment $9,111,727 30.1%
7 John McAdam F5 Networks (Nasdaq: FFIV) IT hardware $8,884,962 27.8%
8 Ray Irani Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY) Energy $76,107,010 25.6%
9 Michael McCallister Humana Insurance $6,147,917 21.7%
10 Merrill Miller National Oilwell Varco (NYSE: NOV) Energy exploration $9,250,871 23.6%

Sources: Chiefist.com and Yahoo! Finance. *While I'm aware that Steve Jobs is no longer Apple's CEO, I nevertheless deemed it appropriate to include him on the list. **Netflix's CAGR is calculated since its May 2002 IPO.

Foolish bottom line
While our mission here at The Motley Fool is to "educate, amuse, and enrich," we often learn as much from readers as you all learn from us. Let me know what you think about Chiefist's rankings by leaving a comment in the box below. And be sure to let me know if your favorite CEO isn't on the list and the reasons why he or she should be.

Foolish contributor John Maxfield, J.D., does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of National Oilwell Varco, Apple, Costco, and Coach. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Cummins, Range Resources, National Oilwell Varco, Netflix, Apple, Coach, Amazon.com, and Costco, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.