Michael O’Leary

Ryanair Holdings, CEO since ‘94

Samuel Palmisano
IBM, CEO since ‘02

Mark Papa
EOG Resources, CEO since ‘98

Why: Airline maverick keeps fares low and profit high.

Why: Big Blue heads for the clouds.

Why: Top indepedent energy chief knows the drill.


ichael O’Leary’s been called a publicity hound, fond of stunts like challenging rivals at EasyJet to a foot race around London’s Trafalgar Annualized Total Return Square. What’s equally true, and One Year 22.4% more important, is that the RyWhile CEO 16.7% anair CEO been a standout stewS&P 500 4.3% ard of shareholder capital. 2010 P/ E 15.3 5-Yr. Profit Growth 17.2% Despite one of the worst airtravel downturns in history, Eu$40 RYAAY ADR / Nasdaq rope’s largest budget airline is ex35 pecting about a 275 million euro $26 ($318.6 million) net profit in the fis30 cal year ending this month, versus 25 red ink in 2008. 20 Count on O’Leary to stay firmly ’08 ’09 ’10 aloft: Through super-low airfares and expansion he has produced one of Europe’s biggest success stories of the decade. The effectively debt-free airline keeps adding routes and expects to increase its fleet by two-thirds by 2013. But in a departure from the past, the CEO has been hinting at the possibility of returning cash to shareholders by paying a dividend. O’Leary remains a breath of bracing air among CEOs for never standing down from competitors, governments, unions, and suppliers. Shareholders like the results. —V.J.R.


am Palmisano has certainly put his stamp on IBM. He has dumped its money-losing harddrive operation, sold its PC division and refocused on higher-margin software and services. Now, Palm- Annualized Total Return One Year 40.5% isano, 58, is pushing Big Blue While CEO 3.9% through another reinvention. S&P 500 2.1% The services giant has 2010 P/ E 11.5 5-Yr. Profit Growth 17.0% launched a blizzard of initiatives. It is targeting developing markets $160 IBM / NYSE the world over with systems to 135 help build urban infrastructure, and it’s creating secure corporate 110 $129 “clouds”—Web-based computing 85 environments—that may eventu60 ally make desktops obsolete. ’09 ’10 The owlish, excitable Palmisano ’08 thinks urbanization is creating all kinds of opportunities for IBM. For the first time ever, he points out, more than half the world lives in cities, and that should hit 70% by 2050. “We are adding the equivalent of seven New Yorks to the planet every year,” he recently wrote. Fans believe IBM can ramp up revenue growth to as much as 4.6% a year from the 2% IBM has averaged lately. That should produce more gains for investors, who saw the shares jump 56% in ‘09. —L.P.N.


any exploration-and-production outfits have a gunslinger’s mentality, borrowing heavily to buy other companies, in a frenzied bid to acquire more Annualized Total Return oil and gas. But Mark Papa, 63, One Year 46.1% head of Houston-based EOG ReWhile CEO 23.8% sources, won’t do pricey acquisiS&P 500 3.1% tions, focusing instead on build2010 P/ E 28.4 5-Yr. Profit Growth 3.0% ing production internally. The Pittsburgh native’s prudent use $150 EOG / NYSE of capital and emphasis on technology have made EOG a formida$89 100 ble player in the oil patch, and a star on Wall Street. Under Papa, who became boss 50 in 1999 after it was spun off from ’08 ’09 ’10 Enron, EOG has seen its shares soar more than 800%. The company has one of the strongest balance sheets in the business, and an edge in extracting oil and gas from difficult areas. Papa argues that “the first mover in any industry makes the highest profits,” and EOG was the first to use horizontal drilling to extract natural gas from the Barnett Shale, the largest U.S. production field. EOG is called the best thing to come out of Enron—and Papa aims to keep it that way. —Christopher C. Williams

Bruce Rockowitz
Li & Fung, CEO since ‘04

Peter Sands
Standard Chartered, CEO since ‘06

Jim Sinegal
Costco Wholesale, CEO since ‘88

Why: Supplies clothing, toys and more to retailers the world over. ong Kong-based Li & Fung became a leader in outsourcing long before the word was invented. Since 1906, the company has sourced garments, furnishAnnualized Total Return ings, Hello Kitty toys and much One Year 132.1% more for retailers around the While CEO 33.6% world. Bruce Rockowitz, 50, figS&P 500 2.8% ures 30% to 40% of the vendors 2010 P/ E 29.9 5-Yr. Profit Growth 14.4% in a U.S. mall are Li & Fung customers. HK$40 494 / Hong Kong The company, which handles 30 everything from designing prod$37 ucts to servicing customers, has 20 been identified with chairman Victor Fung and managing director 10 William Fung, who together own ’08 ’09 ’10 a big chunk of the shares and are descended from its Guangzhou founder, Fung Pak-Liu. But lately, much of the heavy lifting is being done by Rockowitz, a native of Canada who has lived in Hong Kong for 30 years and is now engaged to Chinese pop star Coco Lee. Rockowitz founded a buying agent that was taken over by Li & Fung in 2000. Under Rockowitz, Li & Fung has bought designers and sourcing divisions of retailers and moved into financing. Singaporean sovereign-wealth fund Temasek likes the story; it owns 5% of the shares. —L.P.N.

Why: Dodging the banking crisis, flourishing in Asia. n the terrible times of 2008, it was tough to find a big bank that made money. Standard Chartered was an exception. Led by Peter Sands, the London-based Annualized Total Return institution took no government One Year 99.8% money in 2008 and posted record While CEO 14.4% profits; earnings for 2009 S&P 500 -3.5% climbed, too. 2010 P/ E 13.6 5-Yr. Profit Growth 8.2% Thanks to Sands’ focus on emerging markets, Standard Char2000 STAN / UK 1814 GBp tered, whose history dates to 1500 19th-century India, practically sailed through the crisis. Today, 1000 the fast-growth economies of Asia are offsetting recent chal500 lenges for the bank in the Middle ’08 ’09 ’10 East. This year, Sands says, business “has started off very strongly,” and the bank is on a full-fledged hiring spree. Sands, 48, who grew up in Asia, looks like a white-haired Harry Potter. He joined the bank as a finance director in 2002. Before that, he worked for McKinsey for 15 years as a management consultant. As big banks take a flogging for their part in the crisis, Sands clearly “gets it.” He donated to charity his entire 2009 bonus, about $3 million. —L.P.N.

Why: Turned warehouse-club shopping into a national pasttime. inegal brings an owner’s passion to the company he cofounded 27 years ago, and he shows no signs of slowing down at 74. Costco is coming off a difficult Annualized Total Return One Year 36.4% fiscal 2009 (ending in August), While CEO 13.3% suffering the first annual sales deS&P 500 8.3% cline in its history, and a rare drop 2010 P/ E 20.4 5-Yr. Profit Growth 7.0% in earnings. Even so, Sinegal refused to raise prices to help mar$80 COST / Nasdaq gins, sticking to his relentless cus70 $60 tomer focus. 60 Count on Costco’s 30 million customers to keep coming back. 50 They pay $50 a year for the right to 40 shop in warehouse stores and get ’08 ’09 ’10 big discounts on both staples and premium products like Lacoste shirts and Waterford crystal. And if Sinegal falters? He has made sure the board is free to replace him, insisting on one-year contracts. “I love what I’m doing and I hope the board loves having me around,” he says. Costco, the No. 3 U.S. retailer, has clear international growth potential; Melbourne residents mobbed Australia’s first Costco at the store opening last year. Little wonder Wall Street has given Costco stock a price/earnings multiple of 20, the highest of any big retailer. —A.B.




Courtesy of Ryan Air; Robert Seale (EOG); Bloomberg News

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