Glassdoor reveals Top 100 CEOs for 2021

Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor Chief Economist joins Yahoo Finance reporter Reggie Wade and the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the Glassdoor Top 100 CEO list of 2021.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Welcome back to Yahoo Finance Live. The Boston Consulting group's Rich Lesser getting high marks from its employees in a recent Glassdoor study. A friend of the show, we should say, Rich, got 99% approval from his employees, followed by Adobe's Shantanu Narayan, who also got a 99% approval. To talk more about the study, let's bring in Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor Chief Economist. We've also got Yahoo Finance's Reggie Wade.

Andrew, this is an interesting one, because it feels like there's so many different factors that could lead to approval of CEOs, and that's really sort of shifted, especially during this pandemic. What led to the high marks? And what did you find in terms of what employees really prioritize in the workplace?

ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: Well, in most years, there's three common themes that unite great CEOs. It's being transparent, great communication, walking the walk on company leadership, like embodying the company's mission, and finally, you know, being somebody who puts employees first-- being an advocate for workers.

This year, though, there was a new factor, which was health and safety. We went through a pandemic, a recession, and a recovery. So more than 56% of these CEOs have never been on our list before, and it shows you during a crisis when people get put under pressure, some new faces shined and came to the top of our list.

REGGIE WADE: Dr. Chamberlain, Reggie Wade here-- 29 entrants on the list come from the tech sector. What is it about the tech industry that really lends itself to strong executive leadership?

ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: Well, during the pandemic and with millions of Americans, close to 40% 50% of the workforce, working from home, tech became part of making that work-- Slack, Zoom all of the technologies that made it possible for us to keep going as teams, they often came from the technology sector. So many tech CEOs stepped up into that crisis role and helped position their companies as someone who could help carry through the US economy through this tumultuous year.

JARED BLIKRE: Yeah, I'm looking down this list, and I'm not surprised to see a lot of these tech names, but a couple names do it out here. I'm looking at Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly, and also Delta Airlines, Ed Bastian-- and thinking about it, it makes sense, because going back to last year, they really fought to get the second round-- well, and the first round-- of the PPP-- They did have to furlough a lot of their pilots, and a lot of people were put into early retirement. But what were the surprises for you?

ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: Those-- well, those are definitely some of the biggest surprises from the list. People are often surprised to see airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, some athletic wear retailer Lululemon-- these are all companies that were hammered by the pandemic. And so this shows that it's possible to be a great leader even when the economic conditions are putting pressure on your business.

So in all of these cases, these leaders stayed out in front, they were visible, highly transparent with what was happening with employees, and they made decisions about health and safety and their workforces first. And so in the past year of reviews on Glassdoor, those were the CEOs that were rewarded, and people told us that they were great leaders to work for.

REGGIE WADE: Dr. Chamberlain, we know that women only make up 6% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies, and only 8.1% of all Fortune 500 CEOs. But we've seen a number of women on this list. Could you speak a little bit about them, and what have they been doing in their respective fields that really puts them at the top of this list?

ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: Sure. You're right that women are systematically underrepresented at executive levels. And this list of the top 100 CEOs really highlights that. Only five of our CEOs were women. And that's not necessarily because women are treated any differently than male CEOs by employees, they get just as high ratings, it's just that they're not as prevalent to even get in the list.

So some examples-- Lynsi Snyder from In N Out Burger-- In N Out often makes our best places to work list just by having great benefits and career opportunities for workers. So employees really rewarded Lynsi as being the figurehead who spearheaded that. We also see some other examples here-- we saw leadership at Fidelity Investments, Abby Johnson, similarly. So we believe that highlighting this list can help expose some of the underrepresentation and show people that it is possible to have better female leadership in big, successful companies.

AKIKO FUJITA: And, Andrew, you mentioned health and safety as this new measure for CEO performance. But what about diversity and inclusion? That seems like something that, increasingly, employees are looking to. I certainly can imagine that it helps to have a CEO who really puts that sort of front and center. What did you find on that front in terms of how that factored into how employees viewed their leaders?

ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: Yes. Our research shows employees increasingly put diversity and inclusion as one of their top factors. People don't want to work places where there's pay inequities or where it doesn't feel like there's diverse voices represented. And that change-- those patterns, those policies at companies come straight from the top. That's from senior leaders.

And so it's become increasingly important. People will not work places that do not have diverse workforces or good D&I policies. And so where this list can be useful for job seekers is you can look across this list and see, like, these are places that have leadership that embodies the values of the companies that not only will deliver on financial performance, but will also create culture that will help me thrive personally. And that includes D&I policies.

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