Thunderbird’s 2019 CEO Survey — Conclusions and Methodology

The findings are from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University survey of Most Admired CEOs in America. The goal of the study was to evaluate the leadership of our largest and most dynamic companies.

Also of interest:

Why Causes Us To Admire Business Leaders?

CEOs rarely have time to speak with journalists (we wish politicians felt the same) and the chore is usually handed off to the PR depsrtment. The most admired CEOs like Warren Buffett are unique in the access they grant to the media.

Admiration is Awareness

Poor awareness can make people indifferent to a CEO’s achievements.

Does anything matter more than financial performance?

In a booming economy, financial metrics are a commodity. The ability to focus on other dimensions like employee and customer care, as well as trust, innovation, and vision can be a boon to admiration.

Will women play a much more significant role in the C Suite?

As the survey confirms, the leadership talent women bring to the C suite is extraordinary.

New generations bring new ideas

The lesson for old-line companies is to embed the new generation into senior management. It might rattle some cages to have a 55-year-old report to a 35-year-old, but the alternative is that someone that age will buy the company shortly.

Politics and business don’t mix

Companies like Amazon and JP Morgan know the sting of politics. Some like Jamie Dimon and Jeff Bezos rise above campaign rhetoric and maintain focus despite a challenging political environment, as their ratings prove. They teach us to wear blinders at the trough of human nature just as Mark Zuckerberg reminds us to call in sick during Senate hearings.


What is admiration?

The findings are a barometer of opinion from the business community. When a respondent admires a leader, she is making a statement about the kind of leader she wants to do business with or to work for.

How many respondents were there?

The Thunderbird survey polled 6,000 executives about CEOs they admired. Five hundred twelve answered the survey during the period of July — September 2019. They ranged from CEO to middle management using an iPhone or tablet/desktop.

Who were the respondents?

Our sample universe was 50,000 senior and middle management executive alums of Thunderbird, America’s top-ranked global business school. All respondents are MBA or MGM (Master of Global Management) graduates of the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

How did you choose the CEOs?

To obtain our final list of the 30 most prominent business leaders, we culled Harvard Business Review’s Best-Performing CEOs in the World 2018, Barron’s World’s Best CEOs 2019, Forbes World’s Most Reputable CEOs 2019 and Glassdoor’s Best CEOs to Work For. To be sure the final list was inclusive, we added high profile CEOs from diverse gender, ethnic, and minority backgrounds.

How did you calculate admiration ratings and rankings?

Respondents were asked to click on the CEOs they admired. If they were not familiar or did not admire, they were instructed to skip the question. The total votes were used to calculate AR or the admiration quotient.

What effect did leadership qualities play?

The Thunderbird survey identified nine attributes that result in leadership admiration like innovation, financial performance, environmental, customers, employees, vision, community, quality, and trust. We broke those down into the dimensions of trust, empathy, social responsibility, personal dynamism.


Sanjeev Khagram is a world-renowned scholar in global business studies. He holds a doctoral degree in economics and a doctorate in political economy from Stanford University. Khagram is a Hindu and a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda. He is Managing Director and Dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Jeff Cunningham is the former publisher of Forbes Magazine, former CEO of Elon Musk’s first startup,, managing director of Schroder Ventures IFP fund, founder of NACD Directorship Magazine, and a professor of practice in global leadership at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Thunderbird School of Global Management

Thunderbird School of Global Management is in the vanguard of global leadership, management, and business education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A unit of the Arizona State University, Thunderbird has a global alumni network of over 45,000 leaders worldwide and provides a network of global Centers of Excellence in Geneva, Moscow, Dubai, Nairobi, Tokyo, Seoul, Jakarta, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

The Most Admired CEO survey was conducted by Thunderbird School of Global Management in cooperation with our media partner 24/7 Wall St.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jeff Cunningham

Writing about extraordinary lives. Came for the stories; stayed for the people.