Best and worst list: Tech CEOs that got our attention

Steve Jobs’ recent departure from Apple spurred us to create a list of the best and worst tech CEOs over the years. Read, digest and enjoy the triumphs and failures of these men of industry.

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The game changers

Steve Jobs — Apple
No-one did it better than Steve. In the 70s, Jobs designed the most marketable computer of the time, the Apple II. Jobs was fired from Apple in the 80s, formed his own company called NeXT and eventually made his way back to Apple when his old company integrated NeXT into its line. His reign as CEO from 1997 till 2011 brought numerous innovation and success for Apple such as, the iPod, iPhone, iMac and iPad defining his legacy. Jobs recently stepped down, with acting CEO Tim Cook taking over the reigns at Cupertino. His last words to his company were “Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it.”

Bill Gates — Microsoft
Like Jobs, Gates is one of a select group of university dropouts who went on to revolutionise personalise computing. From Microsoft’s inception in 1975 until his semi-retirement in 2006, Gates was responsible for the company’s product strategy. He aggressively sought to expand the company’s range of products and wherever Microsoft achieved a dominant position he vigorously defended it. He also successfully saw Microsoft through an antitrust case in the late 90s.

His business acumen saw him at the top of the world’s richest list for a number of years and earned him a place on Time Magazine’s list of people who most influenced the 20th and the 21st century .

Mark Zuckerberg — Facebook
Zuckerberg did not invent social networks (that credit should go to Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis who created the first Usernet) but he certainly turned it into popular culture. He began by creating a program called CourseMatch which would select the best course based on other student’s interests. Many years and many lawsuits later, Zuckerberg now sits on top of an estimated personal fortune of US$13-billion.

Yasumitsu Shigeta — Hikari Tsushin
Shigeta’s multi-billion yen company sells mobile phones and has more than 1 600 stores across Japan. He established the company in 1988 and by 1996, was one of the richest people in Japan. His phone company, Hikari Tsushin has since expanded into office supplies, life insurance and copy machines.

Satoru Iwata — Nintendo
While Nintendo is currently going through a rough patch, its president was a key figure in creating the market for videogame consoles. He is the fourth president of Nintendo and helped it to earn a forty-one percent sales increase in 2002. Games he pioneered and helped develop included Kirby, Earthbound, Super Mario Galaxy and Animal Crossing. During his time he has pushed out the Nintendo Wii and the DS, two of the most successful consoles of all time.

Jong-Yong Yun — Samsung
From 1996 to 2008, Yun ushered Samsung through success after success. Samsung was apparently “near death” at one point and Yun, in a move which could be referred to as extreme, cut payrolls by a third, replaced half of the senior managers, eliminated “long and pointless meetings” and sold off a large portion of Samsung’s stock (roughly US$1.9 billion). By 2000, Samsung was back on track and remains as one of the world’s strongest tech brands.

Mark Hurd — Hewlett-Packard
While he may have resigned under disreputable circumstances, Hurd remains one of the most successful tech CEOs in history. Under his leadership, HP had been number one in laptop and desktop sales since 2007, also managing to increase the market share in inkjet and laser printers. Even in the midst of the 2008 recession, HP under Hurd managed to increase sales by six percent.

Reed Hastings — Netflix
Did lack of innovation kill brick-and-mortar movie rentals? Whatever your position on that argument might be, it is difficult to dispute the fact that Hastings’ Netflix sunk the final nail into its coffin. Netflix was originally a DVD-by-mail service but as internet speeds improved, it turned into a streaming content provider. Hastings’ grasp of future technologies as well as his ability to turn a concept into reality makes him an important and visionary CEO. Netflix has helped to pave the way for competing services such as Hulu, SeeSaw, IPTV and Sky Anytime+

The Worst

Jonathan Schwartz — SUN Microsystems
It’s difficult to destroy a US$7.4-billion company, but Schwartz managed to do just that with his lack of leadership. He became become president of Sun in 2006 at a time when the company was experiencing a string of failures such as losing its main market, business servers, to HP. Sun’s shares plummeted and the company consequently had to fire thousands of employees. Schwartz’s biggest failing was probably his attempted monetisation of Java, a free development tool. He resigned with a haiku – “Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/CEO no more”

George Shaheen —
Shaheen was a visionary business consultant once upon a time, but could not see past the glaring errors which led to the closure of, an online store which promised grocery deliveries in thirty minutes or less. The company cost US$1.5-billion and caused more than 4 500 job losses when it declared chapter 11 (bankruptcy) in 2001. He simply failed to understand the myriad costs involved with grocery stores.

John Sculley — Apple
From 1983 to 1993, Scully was CEO of Apple during the dark period without Steve Jobs. Scully tried to reign in the creative genius of Steve Jobs and in doing so, forced him out of the company. Scully himself was ultimately dismissed from his position after attempting to market Apple computers to the IBM crowd. Today, Scully openly credits Steve Jobs for the accomplishments he brought to Apple.

Eckhard Pfeiffer — Compaq
Pfeiffer was CEO of Compaq from 1991 to 1998 and thanks to his purchase of major computing systems, the company was once the second largest computer manufacturer in the world. His lack of vision saw Compaq fall from grace as Pfeiffer was unable to create harmony between the various companies Compaq had acquired. His main blunders included overpricing his , and failing to meet even half of the expected earnings for 1999.

Ed Zander — Motorola
Zander was hilariously out of touch with what the mobile market wanted. On the same day that Apple unveiled the iPhone, Zander rode a bike onto the stage of the Las Vegas CES to announce new Motorola lingerie (essentially mobile phone covers). He was also too slow to capitalise on 3G technology, instead choosing to push further production of the once-popular Motorola RAZR. Under Zander’s leadership, Motorola had managed to drop to third place behind Samsung. His failure can be surmised as “Lack of innovation and slow to market.” as said by industry watchers at the time.

Gerry Levin — AOL
Named “One of the worst CEO’s of all time“, Levin managed to destroy US$200-billion worth of Time Warner shares. This was after a failed merger with AOL and the aforementioned company. Nuff’ said.

Gary Forsee — Sprint Nextal
Forsee attempted to Merge Sprint and Nextel but was met with dire consequences of this action. Business and consumer cellular markets were supposed to easily merge, but the resulting clash only served to drive subscribers away in the millions. His second mistake was the purchase of a US$5 billion WiMax network in 2007 which was seen as a technology far beyond the scope of many companies. With Forsee’s departure, the fate of WiMax now hangs in the air and will seemingly stick in the realm of poor-purchasing decisions forever.

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