CEO Stockwatch

Fresh turbulence and uncertainty characterised the period covered by CARMA International’s latest survey of media coverage of the world’s leading CEOs – February 16 to July 9. In the Spring, volcanic ash from Iceland created havoc for airlines and passengers, Greece’s debt crisis threatened to drag the Eurozone into the abyss and the UK’s general election in May led to the first hung parliament since the 1970s. The airlines took off again as the ash clouds dispersed, a bail-out package for Greece was agreed and the UK’s Conservative party formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron and his new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, ushered in a new age of austerity with swingeing cuts to public spending. After rallying until mid April, stock markets slid as fears of a ‘double dip’ recession unnerved investors. This was the background for media scrutiny of the activities of top CEOs. Besides a number of the usual suspects, eight names entered the top twenty rankings from outside. One story dominated coverage over the period: the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that catapulted Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, to the top of the list. Caused by an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 that killed 11 workers, the oil spill came to be viewed as the world’s biggest environmental disaster. Blame focused on the hapless Hayward, who became America’s public enemy number one. The BP catastrophe diverted some attention from Akio Toyoda of Toyota, whose inept public relations handling of the recalls of faulty cars had helped tarnish the Japanese carmaker’s reputation. Media scrutiny of Toyoda continued in February and March as the CEO appeared at congressional hearings, but became sparser as media ire turned on Hayward. Nevertheless, Toyoda finished in seventh place, up from 11th last quarter. Apart from Hayward, the regulars appear in the remaining four top slots in CARMA’s global ranking. Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway took second place (down from first) as the Sage of Ohama’s words of wisdom on all things financial kept him in the spotlight. In Asia Pacific, Buffett was the most quoted CEO – while Hayward ranked only fifth. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs moved up one place to third in the global listing as the media reported his efforts to defend Goldman’s reputation at Senate hearings on fraud charges. Steve Jobs of Apple fell one place to fourth position, while Rupert Murdoch, the veteran media mogul, remained in fifth. The highest new entrant to the ranking at sixth place is Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Prudential, the UK insurance heavyweight, whose attempt to expand in Asia through the purchase of AIG’s Asian operation AIA failed. Other new entrants were Willie Walsh, BA’s embattled CEO at 11 (up from 22), Marius Kloppers of BHP Billiton at 13, Tom Albanese of Rio Tinto at 14, Dieter Zetsche of Daimler at 16, Ed Whitacre of General Motors at 17 and Mark Zuckerberg, the youthful CEO of Facebook, at 19.