When evaluating a company’s traditional functioning, we almost always see a CEO at the top. A person who’s in charge of the overall success of the organization makes top-level managerial decisions and reports directly to the board.
Studies have shown that CEOs have a “significant effect” on profitability and investment, while they also tie a company together culturally. This is becoming increasingly important as more millennials and Gen Zers ––who have different expectations from businesses they work and buy from –– join the workforce.
The nature of this role is also constantly evolving over time. According to CEO Search expert, Egon Zehnder, “the Chief Executive role is unique, particularly in the current atmosphere of complexity and volatility. These uncertainties require a pragmatic and aligned view on the business and leadership requirements of the CEO, one that must be reviewed regularly over the course of a transition”.
However, lately, we’ve been hearing many people questioning the need for a position like this. In an age of rising unemployment and a growing awareness around global inequality, it seems to many that the inflated salaries of C-suites might not reflect their role in a company. Here are three inspiring examples.
Eric Yuan, Zoom
How can we not start with Eric Yuan? 2020 was the year of Zoom. The pandemic meant that we all needed to quickly find a way to communicate from home, and Zoom became the world’s favorite video conferencing tool. And Yuan has played a huge part in this success. The 51-year-old is adamant about following a number of daily rituals that secure the agile and flexible approach that a modern business demands. When he wakes up, he starts the day by asking himself what he can change that day.
In the evening, he takes 15 minutes for ‘thinking meditation’ where he ponders the question of if he could start over that day, what would he do differently? He believes that this routine of reflection allows him to become a better leader, which he believes is crucial in ensuring his employees are happy and proud of the work they’re doing –– the key to a great product in his eyes.
With this mantra, it’s no wonder that Yuan has a sensational score of 98% on business comparison site Comparably, and managed to win Zoom an A+ for culture, as well as an arsenal of 2020 awards, including best company, best CEO, most diversity, and best company for women. All of these are based on testimonials and scores from workers and former employees of the company, showcasing the cultural impact of Yuan’s actions.
Lynn Jurich, Sunrun
It’s easy to overlook the fact that Lynn Jurich is the only woman on this list. And this is not unusual –– if you look at any list that involves CEOs, you’re unlikely to find more than a couple of women at best. This is one of the issues that Jurich is passionate about, as she described in an interview with Comparably in 2019: “We can’t expect more women to become CEOs overnight –– as a society, we have a lot of cultural and workplace bias that we need to overcome. Nothing will happen on this front unless we address gender equality, diversity and inclusion head-on.”
But she doesn’t just talk about this –– Sunrun, the company of which she is the Chief Executive and co-founder, was the first national solar company to achieve 100% pay parity. Women also make up 50% of its senior executives, and 38% of its Board of Directors.
Since its inception in 2007, the organization now has over 4,000 employees. It is the leading installer of residential rooftop solar panels in the US, even overtaking Tesla. The company’s mission is clearly noble, but the way Jurich operates makes it even more remarkable. It uses the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership as its framework and boasts its ‘Impeccable Agreements’ method which requires people to always do what they say they will, setting expectations straight and making operations more transparent and less frustrating.
Marc Benioff, Salesforce
Last but definitely not least is Marc Benioff, who is not afraid to get his hands dirty when it comes to impact investment. It’s no wonder that he has been dubbed an ‘activist CEO’. With a revenue of $17.1 billion, his company Salesforce is the world’s most successful CRM vendor, flaunting a 30% market share. But as its CEO and co-founder, Benioff makes sure the incredible profits are used for good inside the company and out.
Salesforce won 6th place in Forbes’ 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2020. The results showed that 95% of employees believe it’s a great place to work, 98% felt good about the ways in which they contribute to the community through their work, and 97% were proud to tell others they’re employed by the company.
But that’s not all. In 2018, Proposition C –– a San Francisco ballot measure that would tax the biggest corporations to support homeless services –– was on the cards. While Bay Area tech moguls were huffing and puffing, Marc Benioff was a vocal advocate for it. And, although the enactment of Proposition C is still stuck in the courts, Benioff isn’t waiting for the government to move.
In 2019, he established the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative to research an end to homelessness. What’s more, since its founding in 1999, Salesforce has committed to moving 1% of its equity, products and employee time for philanthropic causes such as environmental justice and racial inequality. This pledge has encouraged over 8,500 companies to follow this too, showing the impact one CEO can have not just on his own venture, but on thousands of other businesses too.