Merchant Innovation

How Jeff Bezos Dropped From #1 To #87 On A List Of The World’s Top CEOs

It has not been a great year for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in print. The New York Times made waves this summer with a piece that essentially equated working for Amazon as an executive with being a participant in a less fun (but usually less lethal) version of the The Hunger Games.

And the hits just keep on coming as the Harvard Business Review has released its ranking of the nation’s top CEOs. Last year’s leader, Bezos, has plummeted down that list to 87.

This is not because Amazon is not making money. If the list was judged the same way it was last year — purely on financial matters — Bezos would once again be in the top spot. But this year, the ranking took into account factors like “environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.” Though the financials counted toward 80 percent of the ranking, Amazon’s ESG score is pretty bad.

Actually it’s really bad: Amazon ranked 828th on that list. And as bad as it looks, it’s actually worse. That is not 828 out of 1,000 as one might naturally assume, that is 828 out of 907. It is also notable, as one commentator pointed out, that insofar as Amazon is not an oil company, chemical manufacturer or coal burning operation, it is working overtime to get a ranking that low.

“It’s pretty hard for a service business to do the environmental damage of, say, an oil company (BP’s Deepwater Horizon) or a chemical producer (Dow’s Bhopal disaster or the more recent horrific explosions in Taijin). So, it’s not an exaggeration to see Amazon as being as bad as it can be in terms of broader community impact for a company of its type,” noted one commentator.

However, the ESG rating is somewhat tricky because, unlike financials, the factors that make it up are not necessarily correlated to hard numbers. HBR explained how they generated those figures:

“To measure CEOs’ performance on nonfinancial issues, HBR consulted with Sustainalytics, a leading provider of environmental, social and governance research and analytics. Sustainalytics, which works primarily with financial institutions and asset managers, rates firms’ ESG performance on a scale from zero to 100. Using the Sustainalytics data, we ordered the 907 CEOs from best to worst ESG scores to arrive at their ESG ranking.”

The new #1?

Lars Rebien Sørensen of Novo Nordisk, a biotech player best known for a diabetes drug.

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