Leadership

Scoreboard: Who are the highest rated leaders in the tech industry?

Who is the best judge of a tech leader's performance? It's not Wall Street analysts or the general public, it's the people inside the company. Based on ratings from Glassdoor.com, see how the tech industry's top leaders, from Steve Ballmer to Larry Ellison to Steve Jobs, are rated by the people who work for them.

Who is the best judge of a tech leader's performance? It's not Wall Street analysts or the general public, it's the people inside the company. Based on ratings from Glassdoor.com, see how the tech industry's top leaders, from Steve Ballmer to Larry Ellison to Steve Jobs, are rated by the people who work for them.

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When I looked up technology executives on Glassdoor.com to see how they were rated by their employees, I was surprised at how they naturally divided themselves into two groups. I picked 14 leaders and they ended up dividing evenly between seven rated 62% or higher and seven rated 48% or lower.

I had already planned on making 50% the natural dividing line (and it was), but it turned out that none of the leaders fell in the 49%-61% window. To me, that meant that tech industry employees were generally not ambivalent about their leaders. The leaders were either widely admired or couldn't gain approval from even half of their employees.

Before we dive into the list, keep in mind that Glassdoor.com is not scientific, but it is statistically significant (because nearly all of these tech companies have over 100 responses). The data is based on anonymous feedback from employees, who self-select themselves to participate. Glassdoor's methodology requires participants to go through a fairly rigorous submission process, and that naturally limits the amount of false submissions. However, because it is anonymous, there's no verification process to determine that the participants are legitimate company employees.

Nevertheless, the information from Glassdoor is extremely interesting, and in most cases it is consistent with information I've read or heard from insiders at the companies mentioned.

In the lists of the highly-rated and poorly-rated tech leaders below, I've listed them from high to low based on their approval rating. I've linked the company names to the full company profiles on Glassdoor.com, where you can see the updated numbers and lots of additional comments from the employees who participated. And I've also included the ratings that employees gave to their respective companies, beyond just the leaders.

Highly-rated

Steve Jobs, Apple: Approval: 90%, Company Rating: 3.8 Eric Schmidt, Google: Approval: 88%, Company Rating: 4.0 John Chambers, Cisco: Approval: 78%, Company Rating: 3.6 Mark Benioff, Salesforce.com: Approval: 73%, Company Rating: 3.7 Jim Balsillie, RIM: Approval: 70%, Company Rating: 3.8 Larry Ellison, Oracle: Approval: 63%, Company Rating: 3.2 Paul Otellini, Intel: Approval: 62%, Company Rating: 3.5

Poorly-rated

Michael Dell, Dell: Approval: 48%, Company Rating: 3.0 Steve Ballmer, Microsoft: Approval: 44%, Company Rating: 3.7 Sam Palmisano, IBM: Approval: 42%, Company Rating: 3.2 Mark Hurd, Hewlett-Packard: Approval: 41%, Company Rating: 2.8 Ed Colligan, Palm: Approval: 36%, Company Rating: 3.2 Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Microsystems: Approval: 25%, Company Rating: 3.1 Greg Brown, Motorola: Approval: 10%, Company Rating: 2.6

Commentary

It's not surprising that Steve Jobs (right) is at the top of the list. He and Apple have been on an amazing run over the past decade with the rise of the iPod and iTunes, the resurgence of the Mac, and of course, the launch of the iPhone. Plus, he is an almost cult-like leader who inspires--and requires--absolute loyalty.

It's also not surprising that Eric Schmidt and John Chambers are so highly regarded, since their companies have been on multi-year hot streaks. These three top-rated CEOs have widely divergent leadership styles, which shows that successful leadership is not about methodology or personality type.

Conversely, on the poorly-rated list it's not surprising to see it dominated by CEOs whose companies have been in a tailspin. Palm, Sun, and Motorola have all been stuck in reverse, even before the current economic downturn, so it's not much of a shock to see their chief executives mired at the bottom of this list.

However, it is a little surprising to see Mark Hurd (right) from HP in the lower list. After all, HP has jumped to the number one spot in PC and server sales under Hurd's watch and produced a series of strong financial results. Despite all that, Hurd has a low 41% approval rating and employees gave the company a 2.8 rating, the second worst on this list. Only Motorola is rated lower.

When you have a leader who drives top-tier results but still has a company morale problem, that person is often called a "scortched-earth" leader--someone who gets things done but burns everyone out in the process. That could be what's going on with Hurd.

The other mild surprise is Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, who only had a 44% approval rating among his troops. While Microsoft's stock price has been stuck in neutral for years and the company's reputation in the general public is mixed, during the past decade Microsoft continued to grow its revenue and its product lines and expand its workforce. Its employees even rated the company at 3.7--only Google, Apple, and RIM scored higher.

The biggest problem Ballmer (right) may face with Microsoft employees is that he's not Bill Gates. While Ballmer has been the Microsoft CEO since 2000, he remained in the shadow of Gates until mid-2008 when Gates retired from his full-time role at the company. While Gates was a visionary, Ballmer is simply a businessman. They complimented each other well, but without Gates what is Ballmer's vision for the company and the computing industry? It's unclear. And that is likely the culprit for his lukewarm endorsement from the Microsoft rank and file.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

22 comments
deb
deb

Why would you put ANY stock at all in the Glassdoor.com results? Anybody can go there and put in any company name and post an anonymous - and completely bogus "employee review." I tested it. In fact, it tells you that if you want to read the full reviews, all you have to do is post one of your own. So I have to do a review to see everything, so what do you think a lot of people are going to do? How about log in as an employee of a rival company, or just a company everyone loves to hate (such as Microsoft) and give a low rating on all the questions? Ballmer's low rating MIGHT be genuine, for the reasons you mentioned. Jobs' 90%? No way. I've heard way too many stories from people who really DO know him and/or have worked for him, that were NOT favorable. I'm guessing it's all the Apple fanboys (along with the sympathy vote for his poor health) that got him at the top of the list.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

I guess it's because he's more of a devoted developer rather than a money scheming.......you know the rest.

tungstendiadem
tungstendiadem

Could it be that ranking high indicates an unhealthy level of paranoia in the underlings of those who ranked highest? I mean really, these are enormous companies. I can speak well of the people on top in my firm, but that is only because I am so close to them. If I were awash in a sea of corporate drones, I would be of the same general opinion of the top boss as everyone else (the opinion that keeps me my job). Maybe, people at Apple are terrified that Jobs has hidden microphones and automated email interception and processing everywhere (after all I doubt that many people at Apple are "allowed" anything other than a Mac and iPhone). Maybe, Jobs is the leader of a cult, rather than a leader with a cult like following. I don't know, but I love my boss.

Izzmo
Izzmo

You can notice a correlation between the ratings. Now, one of the bigger players, Cisco, is at a high rate, but for all others, it follows the rules. Apple and Google are fairly small compared to other giants like Dell and Microsoft. With bigger companies, the smaller people of the company don't necessarily reflect their anger at the CEO, but their own manager. So, most of these percentages are incorrect as the employee's who usually give their input are the people way down in the company, not the bigger ups. As for the companies such as Apple and Google, well if you look at their circumstances, of course they are going to rate better, because of a couple things. The main reason is because they probably get better perks and benefits being with the company. Larger companies tend to stray away from these benefits. Also, smaller companies can handle these benefits and still keep output rather high, while bigger companies, if they offered these same options, output would most likely drastically fall. So, I don't think these results should be taken too seriously as Steve Ballmer especially has done some good things with Microsoft as he has taken over CEO.

Colinza
Colinza

I?m surprised, that you were surprised at Mark Hurd?s low rating. You are making the error of rating a company by shareholder satisfaction alone. There is little leadership left in the IT industry and most CEOs are nothing more than managers - Managers of shareholder portfolios at the expense of the workforce that produced those stellar results of the past few years.

s2009.indlay
s2009.indlay

Good and interesting question. In my opinion Apple is the highest rated leaders in the tech industry. Stuart workout plans

tungstendiadem
tungstendiadem

Perhaps, And I'll leave it to someone without more important things to do to do the fact checking, perhaps, those ranked at the bottom are those whose firms laid off the most workers recently, and subsequently have a larger proportion of disgruntled persons milling around the old internet water cooler griping about the brass.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The leaders at the top of this list contradict that statement. A CEO can't JUST be a visionary. He or she also has to be a business manager as well - and a good manager empowers and rewards their workforce before (or at least in addition to) padding their own wallet. The kind of "manager" you're talking about is a poor manager.

blarman
blarman

Having been intimately acquainted with HP for the past 30 years, I will let you in on the culture shock that has been the lot of HP's employees over that time period. Historically, HP's founders gave a lot of leeway to individual employees to innovate. They encouraged their employees by allowing them to apply for patents under their names. They even mandated that between 10-12% of gross revenues (not profits) go back directly into research and development. They had a generous employee bonus program based on company profitability where EVERYONE (even down to line workers and janitors) could participate. Every quarter there was the chance to get a sizable bonus of up to an additional paycheck. HP payed the best, only hired the best, and put out the best products as a result (remember the days when HP's disk drives came standard with a 5-year replacement warranty?). After Hewlett and Packard gave the company over to a new string of leaders, the new leadership started cutting back on those employee-centric benefits. At first, bonuses were restricted to managers, but soon they were restricted to upper management. Stock option purchases followed suit. Then the employee purchase program (where employees could purchase HP-branded equipment for steep discounts) dried up. Divisional picnics (paid for by HP) were discontinued. And then leadership changed again. Tens of thousands were laid off - including many long-serving employees. Then a competitor was purchased despite intense internal opposition (some polls had a more than 2-to-1 against vote be employees division-wide). Upper management pay and perks ballooned astronomically (Carly Fiorina made over 30 million in the Compaq Merger alone) yet tens of thousands more were given the pink slip. At the same time, R&D spending had trickled off to a paltry 2-3% of revenue despite a new company logo "HP Invent". Management changed hands again, and this time there was no one left from the old guard, who remembered how HP was run and the foundational principles of Hewlett and Packard. Just as a financial note, but if you look at the history of HP's stock, you'll see that Hurd' performance is better only when compared to Fiorina's. HP's stock under original management was doubling or tripling (and splitting) every other _year_. You can see it slow down and even decline as management changes hands.

TmanA37
TmanA37

Ladders and Damian Saunders article are spot on. HP executives are padding their wallets and platinum parachutes while the rest of the employees are stuck with a crumbling infrastructure Mark Hurd,and Ann Livermore are cut from the same cloth as Madoff.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

"Put bluntly, 6 people at the top of the HP pyramid accounted for $142,774,325 in compensation in 2008 alone. That is an obscene amount of money." Absolutely, unequivocally,and utterly obscene....

clipvst
clipvst

Wow... can really see why the rank & file of HP are a bit miffed with management!

avidtrober
avidtrober

Probably Ballmer got 44% from the younger, more inexperienced workers in Microsoft. The more experienced the worker, the more he's unpopular. And, it's mostly the disgruntled that don't bother to respond to polls/vote.

mjwagner
mjwagner

I find it predictable that these ratings are highly correlated to the Company's stock price performance over the last few years. It's no suprise that Apple and Google are at the top of the list after lining their employee's pockets with billions of dollars in stock option wealth, free meals and countless boondoggles, and, best of all for employees but worst of all for non-employee shareholders, corrupt re-pricing of stock options if they are not in the money. American greed is alive and well, in the financial community as well as the tech community....just put money in people's wallets and they will love you, even if your overall management practices and organization are corrupt and unethical (a la' Steve Jobs criminal behavior in re-pricing AAPL stock options several years ago to line his and other employees wallets with hundreds of millions of dollars).

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

I agree, at the end of the day a CEO who pockets large amounts of money for his "leadership" and gives nothing back to those backs of whom he is resting on will soon find he has no backs on which to rest. CEO's and managers are needed to push projects forward and delagate and direct but you cannot hear an orchestra if no one is there to play the instraments. If corporate greed rules in a company it will see itself fall. Look at how Apple rewards it's employees and treats them, or the fun work environment at those top rated companies. They work hard and play hard and get rewarded for their efforts. It is indeed sickening to see so few get paid so much at the expense of so many. If I were President I would cap Executive pay. What are these people but mere mortals yet they are elevated to higher status due to their "leadership" and "vision". In Norway CEO's are paid but it is only 5 times the base salary of average workers. Now THAT is a great idea. Why not boost the wages and salaries of many, spread the wealth? Why must so few get so much for so little?

1860ph
1860ph

IBm has been in a tail spin for years now. They have become one of the worst companies for treating employees well. Used to be one of the best. I would not working for IBM unless you want give them all you have and then they fire you.

g01d4
g01d4

Except perhaps Jobs. Your "poor manager" may not always appear so to the shareholders. What's with the "JUST be a visionary" strawman? The original post stated that was little leadership left where I assume that leadership = management + vision.

Colinza
Colinza

Sorry mate .. sheer frustration that's all

fabianmejia
fabianmejia

Living in a developing country that's extremely obscene! I would dare to say there are several companies facing the same situation. Later they will say "Government, please help us! Our company is in trouble, I can't buy my monthly Ferrari"

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

leadership = management + vision And it's true that sometimes poor managers are still loved by wall street, but it usually doesn't last. Bad managers can't create strong work environments so they eventually lose talent and that undermines their long-term success.