Buffett, and Bezos, and Cook, Oh My!


Quick – name the first CEO that comes to mind.

Maybe it’s because of what I do for a living – teach business – but such a challenge is second nature to me.

But apparently I am in the minority.

A new survey, conducted by Edelman, of the general public in 10 large countries found that almost 50% of people polled say they couldn’t name a corporate chief executive. And when actually asked to prove it, fully 60% of people aged 18 or older could not name a CEO (another case of not knowing what you don’t know…)

In case you were wondering, the CEO who was named the most often was Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. That’s not surprising; Zuckerberg is the very public face of a company that has over one billion users worldwide.

But it gets sort of depressing after that. The next two people named are no longer CEOs; in fact one of them died a few years ago. The second most mentioned CEO was Bill Gates, and in third place was Steve Jobs. I’m not questioning the fact that Gates and Jobs were two great CEOs, but their time is over; you would hope people are focused on the here and now when they think about who is running the world’s biggest companies.

It would be like someone asking me to name the biggest rock stars of 2016 and I would reply Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, and Elvis Presley. Such an answer certainly wouldn’t speak well for the latest group of music stars.

As noted in Quartz, such results from the Edelman survey certainly don’t help to dispel notions of a distant, unaccountable corporate elite since so few can personally name any of their number.

It’s also ironic when you think about how much impact the CEO of a large, global firm has on the lives of so many people, yet so few people know who these CEOs are. But if you were to ask people to name one of the 20 biggest stars of Hollywood, I would think the results would indicate much greater name recognition, despite the fact that those stars have little, if any, impact on the lives of the respondents.

By the way, if you are ever asked to name a CEO, here are a few go-to answers:

Jeff Bezos – Amazon
Warren Buffett – Berkshire Hathaway
Reed Hastings – Netflix
Jeff Weiner – LinkedIn
Elon Musk – Tesla
Jack Dorsey – Twitter and Square
Tim Cook – Apple
Bob Iger – Disney
Satya Nadella – Microsoft
Sundar Pichai – Google

And while we’re mentioning Apple, Google, and Steve Jobs, today was an historic day in the financial markets. Today was the day that Google (Alphabet), the company that Steve Jobs stated he wanted to go thermonuclear on, passed Apple to become the world’s largest company by market value.

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