Meet The Top 10 Tech CEOs Of 2017

by Sohini Bagchi    Dec 20, 2017

In today’s rapidly changing markets, CEOs have to make decisions considering the digital transformation. A recent McKinsey article said, “Being the CEO of a large company facing digital disruption can seem like being a gambler at a roulette table. You know you need to place bets to win, but you have no idea where to put your chips. In such a scenario, the question that comes to mind is “what makes for a successful CEO?”

The question has never been more important, especially in the global technology industry, and has a number of dimensions to it. Russell Reynolds Associates, in partnership with Hogan Assessment Systems, has led a research effort to identify key indicators of leadership that have a measurable impact on a company’s growth. The results demonstrate that intensity, an ability to prioritize and focus on substance, and an ability to know what one doesn’t know (and utilize the best in what others do know) are more strongly related to best-in-class CEO leadership than traditional traits like extroversion or self-promotion.

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While there are a number of reputed career research and job listing sites who ranked the best tech CEOs of the year, CXOToday compiles those thoughts from some of these recently released data and presents before its readers the top CEOs of 2017 based on their leadership style, compensation, culture and work they have done all through the year.

The names in the list are random and not essentially based on ranks but what’s important is that these tech titans not only run the biggest tech companies around, they are changing the status quo, innovating around the business models or technologies and act as a major drive in taking their businesses forward. It is therefore important to know what makes them the most inspiring and innovative leaders in the industry.

1. Marc Benioff, CEO, Salesforce

The billionaire tech businessman-philanthropist Marc Benioff, CEO of customer relationship management and cloud services company, Salesforce.com, has been ranked numero uno, as per Comparably’s latest survey of large tech enterprises.

“As the original founder of Salesforce he has a deep connection with the product and employees that uniquely inspires his team,” says Jason Nazar, CEO of Comparbly. “Besides continuing to grow a massively successful public company, he’s been a dynamic leader and consistent voice of company culture issues.”

One of those issues has been closing the gender pay and promotion and gap, an issue that has been top of mind given the large number of sexual harassment allegations coming to light in entertainment, politics and business. Benioff pledged to close the gap in 2015 and by early 2017 Salesforce said it had achieved equal pay, promotion and opportunity for female employees. 

“Marc is the best CEO in the business — different for sure — but the best,” an anonymous Salesforce employee said. In recent years, Benioff has been talking up the “social enterprise,” where everyone from employees to customers and consumers are connected and engaged through social networks

2. Brad Smith, CEO, Intuit

Intuit’s CEO since 2008, his employees regard him as someone who is very well-respected and keep things moving in the right direction. Its management tricks include many of the bromides management-theory gurus like to state: Be transparent. Reinvent yourself. Listen to your customers.

Intuit, especially under the leadership of Brad Smith, who has been CEO for 10 years, has perfected processes for truly embracing these maxims. “I’ve always valued and encouraged teamwork, and that collaborative spirit of “we” versus “I” is core to Intuit’s success. Innovation has been part of Intuit’s DNA for nearly 30 years,” he said in a Forbes interview. 

Collaboration, customer driven innovation and Design for Delight, allow us to continually reinvent ourselves to deliver for the future and provide our customers anytime, anywhere access, is his mantra.

3. Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

He’s been at the company since 2008, and received great reviews from former employees. As a LinkedIn associate web developer mentions, “The CEO is what helps spread the culture. He emphasizes culture.”

“Empathy, or feeling someone’s pain, can hinder a leader from being helpful,” Weiner says in a Fortune interview. But compassion—the ability to understand another person’s pain—enables you to “do something about the way that person is feeling. Compassion has essentially become my first principle of management.”

Since becoming CEO in 2009, Jeff Weiner has led LinkedIn to become a network of nearly 500 million registered users with offices in 30 countries. Weiner’s leadership style has earned him the trust of investors. 

At a recent seminar on leadership, Weiner said, “Compassionate management is just putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, understanding their perspective,” Weiner said. “And classically defined, you do that for the sake of alleviating somebody’s suffering. But more broadly defined, within a work environment, it doesn’t need to be limited to alleviating suffering. It can be whenever I’m in a position where I can help you.”

No wonder, a LinkedIn Marketing Manager mentioned to Glassdoor, “I love the freedom managers give us to take on big challenges. Plus, the CEO is just a great leader.”

4. Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft

In February 2014, when Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer to head Microsoft Corp, many in the industry were surprised. Some wondered whether the India-born executive deserves the top post in the world’s most coveted organization. While some anticipated many more mistakes to follow, others feared that the tech major would turn into a dinosaur. Some however - both from inside the company and outside - were hopeful. They were looking for the much needed change and Satya Nadella proved them right!

A year later Microsoft feels fresh, new, and not quite obsessed with the legacy of Windows. Under, CEO Satya Nadella’s reign, Microsoft has made strides, changing its focus – making itself more relevant in the new tech world led by mobile-focused rivals such as Apple and Google.

Read: The Man And His Mission@Microsoft - Satya Nadella Demystified

 Nadella, has worked at Microsoft for over 22 years. He had a clean slate and his leadership gave a sense of relief prevailed in the air. “He hasn’t solved all problems, but he’s made moves in the right direction strategically,” said JP Gownder, analyst at Forrester Research. While many new things unveiled in the last 12 months were works for years, Nadella appears to have injected new energy into the Redmond powerhouse.

5. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

In less than 10 years, Mark Zuckerberg has taken the online social network from his Harvard school and delivered it into the homes, offices, pockets, and purses of over 1.65 billion monthly active Facebook users across the globe. Of course several times, his moves have been a subject to scrutiny, dissection, and criticism, but the qualities that has made him one of the most loved tech CEOs include his open and liberal mindset, a strong philosophy and a culture of innovation.

In his own words, “We don’t build services in order to make money, we make money in order to build better services. Facebook was not originally created to be a company. We build to accomplish a social mission— to make the world open and more connected.”

Zuck’s trotted out this “open and connected” tenet on various occasions, is quick to admit his flaws and makes his offices a place to learn and play and live. As a Facebook employees said, “Mark Zuckerberg is phenomenal. Amazing leadership team. Very open, great mission. Great perks. Work and teammates are very enjoyable.” ”I think as a company, if you can get those two things right, having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff–then you can do pretty well,” he said Inc. about building and growing a strong and vibrant business.

“Mark is an incredible leader who wants to make the world a better place, and I love doing work for a mission I care about,” a Facebook analyst said.

6.  Sundar Pichai, CEO, Google

The IIT Kharagpur alumnus, who later attended Stanford for MS and Wharton for his MBA, Pichai’s life story is remarkable, and his rise to the top of Google is a glowing endorsement of India’s standing in the global technology industry, and equally, a reassuring reminder of the so-called “American Dream,” says a BBC report.

Read more: 5 Most Influencial India-Born Global Tech CEOs

Besides being incredibly talented and hardworking like many tech leaders, Pichai excelled at recruiting, mentoring, and retaining a great team. According to one of his former colleagues, “Sundar’s team of product managers had a reputation as being among the best of the best, similar to the reputation of the software engineers within Search Quality.”

He personally convinced co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin that Google should have its own browser. Today Chrome is the most popular browser in history. An incredibly humble person at heart, he believes, “It is always good to work with people who make you feel insecure about yourself. That way, you will constantly keep pushing your limits.”

Besides being incredibly talented and hardworking like many tech leaders, Pichai excelled at recruiting, mentoring, and retaining a great team. 

7. Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

Since replacing the legendary Steve Jobs, Cook has led the iBehemoth to even greater financial success. Along the way he’s changed the culture of the company—and found his public voice as a leader.

Renowned technology writer Adam Lashinsky, writes in Mar 2015 edition of Fortune, “Cook’s defiant, confident tone reflects the CEO he has become. No one guards Apple’s distinct corporate culture—a culture designed by Jobs—more fiercely than Cook. Yet he also is gradually tweaking Apple at its edges, leading the company where he wants to take it, adding his unique perspective, and subtly but clearly redefining Apple in his image.

His mantra, he repeatedly stated, ”We want diversity of thought,” he says. “We want diversity of style. We want people to be themselves. It’s this great thing about Apple. You don’t have to be somebody else. 

Cook also knows transparency would be key. He has opened the doors and invited the world to see how Apple’s operations really worked. And no wonder, it’s common to see him and the senior officials eating lunch on campus amongst everyone else.”

8.  Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe

Shantanu Narayen, CEO Adobe, one of the world’s largest and most diversified software companies attributes much of his success to the team. “The best part about being a good manager has always been getting gratification from what others do, because the higher you get in management, frankly, the less you do yourself,” he mentioned in a NY article.

With Shantanu at the helm, the San Jose, Calif.-based company has built a formidable culture of innovation, expanded into new markets, and extended its product portfolio and global reach.

He not only questions the status quo, but believes in surrounding himself with people who are smarter than he is. “It’s about finding people who have that confidence without attitude, team players who will challenge and bring out the best in you as a leader and in each other,” he says.

9. Jensen Huang, CEO, NVIDIA

Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia co-founded Nvidia, the Santa Clara-based chip maker that has been best known for gaming graphics chips and is now turning its attention to artificial intelligence and self-driving technology. 

Nvidia provides “a fantastic environment for forward-thinking engineers, computer scientists and marketers,” says an anonymous employee on Glassdoor. Another said it is “a big company that thinks it is a startup.

Huang’s leadership style is defined by 2 core principles: intellectual honesty and the tolerance to take risks. In Huang’s own words, “the tolerance to take risks naturally encompasses the ability to learn from failure”. These may seem like very humble principles that border on clichés, however, they are not clichés when they are embraced and acted upon by leaders, mentioned senior editor Kurt Blazek.

10. Pat Gelsinger, CEO, VMware

Gelsinger has been serving as CEO of VMware since September 2012, nearly doubling the size of the company during his tenure. He brings more than 35 years of technology and leadership experience.

Long ago, he publicly vowed to give an increasing percentage of his gross income to charity and he’s now up to 50%, he tells Business Insider.

“I make a lot of money so I can give a lot of money away. We have a small foundation, but most of it we just give directly from our revenue and overall holdings that we have,” he said.

“We know that CEO approval ratings correlate to overall employee satisfaction and trust in senior leadership, which contributes to long-term employee engagement, ultimately helping an employer’s recruiting and retention efforts,” said Robert Hohman, Glassdoor co-founder and CEO. 

Gelsinger recognizes that it is not easy to keep one’s priorities in balance.  For balance and accountability, Gelsinger emphasizes getting a mentor.  Today he has two mentors with whom he meets regularly.  And, as a way to give back, he mentors others as well.

One may wonder, why do employees enjoy working at the companies of certain CEOs? Experts believe, the top tech CEOs share several of these desired traits, which earned them high approval among employees. Those who rank highly are typically cited by employees as strong leaders, dedicated to the company mission and culture, providers of leadership and growth opportunities, personable, approachable, and transparency in leadership as these are traits especially valued among tech employees.