They're already major players. And they have what it takes to go all the way.
(FORTUNE Magazine) - DAVID CALHOUN General Electric LEADING HEADHUNTERS AGREE: The No. 1 draft pick in the game of grabbing top executive talent--the most lusted-after managerial star who isn't already a CEO--is David Calhoun of General Electric. "He's the top of the list," says Gerry Roche of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles. "He's the complete package," says Roche's archrival, Tom Neff of SpencerStuart. In this game, if Roche and Neff say you're it, you're it.
The thing about top draft choices is that they're hard to sign. Calhoun was on the very short list to be Boeing's new CEO last year. Soon after the job went to a former GE star, 3M chief James McNerney, Calhoun was promoted to the post of vice chairman at GE. It appears that GE boss Jeff Immelt did what it took to keep Calhoun on board, though everyone involved is officially tight-lipped. Calhoun just says, "My heart and soul are in GE. This opportunity is very appealing to me." continued
So why won't the headhunters leave Calhoun alone? One measure of his appeal is a hugely impressive, carefully crafted GE resume. He came to the company in 1979 right out of Virginia Tech (major: accounting) and immediately stood out. Rapid promotions took him through the company's wide range of businesses. That's one reason GE executives are so esteemed: Virtually no other company can give managers such varied experiences. And because GE is unsurpassed at leadership development, those experiences are chosen very deliberately. It's no accident that Calhoun has run two long-cycle businesses (railroad locomotives and jet engines), one short-cycle business (lighting), and a financial services business (reinsurance), or that one of those was a consumer business (lighting) and one a defense business (jet engines), or that he has had a major overseas posting (running GE Plastics in Asia). He's the complete package.
What the resume can't convey are personal traits that recruiters also salivate over. He seems, dare one say it, as energetic as former CEO Jack Welch. Ask him for his idea of fun, and he says: work. "When I wake up in the morning, this is what I enjoy doing. I love it." He also loves sports--skiing, golf, tennis, pickup basketball--reflecting an intense competitiveness that is, he says, his "framework" for everything. His passion is infectious--as a speaker, he can get his audience wound up and ready to run through walls--and he's comfortable in his own skin: a cement salesman's son, an aggressive, high-IQ guy from eastern Pennsylvania with a powerful desire to win. As Welch says, "You've got to be comfortable with yourself to make a good boss."
The big question about Dave Calhoun is how badly he wants to be the boss. It's easy to believe him when he says he likes his current gig. He's overseeing businesses with some $40 billion of sales. If they were free-standing instead of inside GE, he'd already be one of America's most prominent CEOs. Whether he pines to run his own show is a question he very prudently won't answer. But we know a couple of things. First, the one company he won't run is GE, since he's 48 and Immelt is 49. And second, offers of the world's best CEO jobs will continue coming over the transom. It's hard to imagine how anyone could keep saying no forever. -- Geoffrey Colvin
URSULA BURNS Xerox
HERE'S WHAT you need to know about Ursula Burns. As Xerox was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy in early 2001, Burns was in charge of one of the crucial parts of the company's turnaround--holding contract talks with its 2,000 unionized workers in Rochester, N.Y.--even as she was exploring the outsourcing of their jobs. "Most people would have run for the hills," says CEO Anne Mulcahy. But Burns wouldn't take a pass, even when she had the chance. She negotiated the deal in her living room, where she was recovering from an emergency hysterectomy.
Now Burns, 47, is the president of Business Group Operations, in charge of engineering, product development, manufacturing, the supply chain, global purchasing, and R&D. Whew. That's basically everything except sales and service at the $15.7 billion company. The job puts her in the hot seat once again: This time cracking what Mulcahy calls "the hardest part of the equation for us"--achieving a revenue growth rate of 5%. "We think we execute fairly well, but we aren't excellent," Burns says.
As you can tell, Burns's style is direct; she doesn't spin and there's no spinning her. "If there was a moose in the room, Ursula would be the person to put it on the table," says Quincy Allen, a VP of product development. Says Mulcahy: "She is the ultimate straight-shooter." She is also personable. Everybody who works with her knows that son Malcolm, 17, is now driving, and daughter Melissa, 13, is adept at drawing. They know about her extraordinary past--growing up in a tenement house in Manhattan, where her mother, Olga, ironed shirts and "did whatever the hell she needed to keep us all going," says Burns.
After earning a master's degree in engineering from Columbia, she joined Xerox as a summer intern in 1980. She worked her way through engineering and product development and then up the ladder to senior VP in 2000, just in time to play a big role in helping Mulcahy keep Xerox from going off a cliff. Now she is leading Xerox's drive into color printing, which grew 15% last year and contributes almost a third of revenue. She has nearly completed the company's transition to digital printing. Meanwhile. the headhunters are eyeing her, but she plans to stay at Xerox for "as long as they'll have me." What about becoming a CEO? "I can't let myself get confused by tomorrow," she says. As her mother taught her, "If I keep focused on what I need to do today, the future will take care of itself." -- Betsy Morris
GREG BROWN Motorola
TO GET AHEAD in corporate America, headhunters will tell you to do two things: Beware of Silicon Valley, because big- company execs don't do well there. And if you do get the chance to be a chief executive, hang onto the title--another chance may never come along.
Greg Brown, 45, has broken both rules, and his strategy is paying off. He left a fast-track job at Chicago's Ameritech in 1999 to become CEO of Micromuse, a ten-year-old software firm in San Francisco, and took it from $22 million to more than $200 million in revenues. Four years later he went to struggling Motorola--as an executive VP. What gave him the confidence? It runs in the family. His older brother by 13 years is Dick Brown, former CEO of EDS and Cable & Wireless.
Brown is good at fixing things. He grew Motorola's $6.7 billion government and corporate communications-equipment business by 10% a year and doubled its profitability. "We did it mostly with a more disciplined rollout of new products and by more tightly managing our R&D spending," he says. He also laid off about 3% of his 20,000-employee division and replaced all 12 of his direct reports. He boils his philosophy down to three words: listen, learn, lead. It means you need to understand your business down to the nuts and bolts, let your employees know you won't have all the answers, and focus on just a handful of truly crucial things, even though dozens seem just as important. He's being watched. Says John Thompson, a vice chairman at Heidrick & Struggles: "He's no longer a hidden talent. If Motorola doesn't broaden his responsibilities this year, they're going to risk losing him. He has the personal bandwidth to be CEO of a FORTUNE 50 company." -- Fred Vogelstein
KEVIN JOHNSON Microsoft
KEVIN JOHNSON IS an unusual specimen: a hard-headed operator with Gatesian shrewdness--and Oprah-like personal skills. "I love business, I love technology, I love customers, and I love people," he says. It's startling to hear a Microsoft executive get all bear-huggy, but that's the way Johnson is. "Everybody looks up to him," says Baris Cetinok, a marketing manager. Last summer CEO Steve Ballmer gave Johnson, 45, two huge new assignments. He became co-president--and by year's end sole president--of the all-important Windows platform and services division ($24.5 billion in revenues out of $40 billion total). And he was paired with new chief technology officer Ray Ozzie to oversee a huge change at Microsoft--moving from shrink-wrapped software to an ad-supported online model. Ballmer calls the duo "Frick and Frack."
Johnson's new operational and strategic responsibilities are a big change from his last job, as head of sales and marketing. When "KJ" ran U.S. sales four years ago, customer satisfaction was at an all-time low. Viruses were eroding faith in Microsoft's competence; a new, less flexible product-licensing plan was turning off corporate customers; and free open-source software was beginning its relentless competitive assault. At a 2002 gathering of salespeople in New Orleans, Johnson showed videos of respected staffers talking frankly about their dealings with frustrated customers. "You could just see the pain on their faces," says Johnson. "One person said, 'Sometimes I get exhausted representing this company.' The place was just dead silent. People were crying. And up on stage I was thinking, 'Maybe I brought them down too far.'" Then he announced what he called a "Make It Right Fund" that would give salespeople unlimited resources to solve customer problems. "The place went wild," he recalls. Soon afterward he got the global sales job. The fund was important symbolism, and at no more than $40 million a year, it turned out to be an excellent investment: On Johnson's watch in global sales, revenue increased $11 billion. Customer satisfaction rose to an all-time high. Joe Marengi is probably the biggest customer of all. He oversees the Americas for Dell, and says Johnson brought a "refreshing" shift to the two companies' relationship: "If he thinks something they're doing is wrong, he'll tell me, even if I don't see it." Candor and friendliness--the new face of Microsoft? -- David Kirkpatrick
EDUARDO CASTRO-WRIGHT Wal-Mart
AS THE PUBLIC FACE of Wal-Mart, CEO Lee Scott has his hands full. So it can't hurt that he has one of the sharpest executives in the land watching over his 3,250 U.S. stores. Eduardo Castro-Wright, the new CEO of Wal-Mart Stores USA, turned Wal-Mart's publicly traded Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mex, into the country's best retailer and a jewel of Wal-Mart's $56 billion international arm. To make that happen, Castro-Wright's team slashed prices and expenses, squeezed suppliers to get products into stores faster, and used smaller store formats (dubbed Bodega AurrerÃ¡). He also showed a knack for public relations, defusing criticism by emphasizing jobs and low prices when merchants protested the construction of a Wal-Mex store near an archaeological site. In 2004, his final full year at the helm, sales at Wal-Mex's 700 outlets rose 11% to $12.5 billion, and net income grew 36%. "He did a masterful job," says consultant Ken Harris.
Born in Ecuador, Castro-Wright, 50, is the second oldest of eight siblings in a tightly knit retailing family--his grandfather founded a supermarket more than 50 years ago that became that nation's largest chain. "When you come from a large family, you learn to understand what motivates people," he says. "Later on, as a business leader, that helps." (Today he's married with three daughters.) After earning an engineering degree at Texas A&M, Castro-Wright rebuilt RJR Nabisco's Latin American operations during the tumultuous KKR era. At Honeywell in the late 1990s, where he ran all of Asia-Pacific, among other things, he caught the eye of Wal-Mart's brass, who spent two years courting him. Today he finds himself in the belly of the beast. Same-store sales grew 3% in fiscal 2005, Wal-Mart's worst performance ever. Scott says the stores "need to get better faster," and it's Castro-Wright's job to get that done. He commissioned a survey of Wal-Mart's customers and used the results to tailor product mix to local tastes. He launched organizational changes that mirror moves he made in Mexico: allowing more employee mobility and moving divisional and regional presidents out of Bentonville, Ark., and into the markets they oversee, speeding response time. "We're changing the entire company as we speak," he says. Where does Castro-Wright go from here? Those in the know expect his star to keep rising. "He's on a very short list to succeed Scott," says recruiter Ric Comins, who helped bring him to Wal-Mex in 2001. And it's worth noting the name of one executive who once had Castro-Wright's job: Lee Scott. -- Jenny Mero and Matthew Boyle
BRAD SHEARES Merck
FOR THE ENTIRE summer of 1978, Brad Sheares guillotined rats. It was the heyday of Merck's research laboratories, and the experience left the earnest Sheares, a preacher's son from Chicago, intent on leaving Merck to pursue a career in academia. But a soul-searching chat with Roy Vagelos--then Merck's chief scientist and later the CEO--helped change his mind. Says Sheares: "Dr. Vagelos told me, 'If you really want to have an immediate impact on human health, come to Merck.' " He did return after earning a doctorate in biochemistry at Purdue and pursuing post-doctoral cancer research at MIT. In 18 years at the company, which has lately been tangled in litigation over its arthritis drug Vioxx, he's risen through the lab ranks to upper management. As president of Merck's human health division, Sheares, 49, oversees Merck's U.S. sales and marketing. After all Merck has been through in recent years, he still believes Vagelos was right. "There's a core set of values here that hasn't changed," he says.
The charismatic Sheares is seen as a leading candidate to run the company. He's a man who "thinks deep and feels hard," says one colleague. Though he was one of four internal candidates for the CEO job last winter, he lost out to Dick Clark, 59, who had more leadership and cost-cutting experience. Clark plans to retire in 2011, and that gives Sheares time to prove himself. And when Clark took the helm in May, he expanded Sheares's duties, tapping him to help draft a recovery plan for the company. Outsiders, meanwhile, are beginning to notice. Sheares recently agreed to serve on the boards of Honeywell Corp. and Progressive Insurance. The only reservation Merckers seem to have is whether Sheares is too nice a guy. Maybe they don't know what he did to all those rodents in the summer of '78. -- John Simons
STEVE BURKE Comcast
LONG AGO Steve Burke learned that one can achieve business success--and satisfaction--without becoming a CEO. His father, Dan Burke, worked for 30 years as deputy to Tom Murphy at Capital Cities/ABC. After Harvard Business School, Burke got tutoring at the Walt Disney Co. from the late Frank Wells, the much-admired No. 2 to Michael Eisner, then Disney's leader. Now Burke is enjoying a productive partnership of his own as president and chief operating officer of cable TV giant Comcast, where he works for chief executive Brian Roberts. Roberts, 46, whose father, Ralph, started the company, isn't going anywhere. And though headhunters are hungry for him, Burke, 47, insists he is not hungering to run his own show. "I would rather be COO working for someone I respect in an industry I love than be CEO someplace else," says Burke. "I'm a very loyal person. I was at Disney for 13 years. I've been married to my wife for 22 years. I love what I'm doing. Nothing has turned my head in the past seven years, and I can't imagine what would."
Burke and Roberts get along well; both are family-oriented, Ivy-educated boomers who grew up as sons of successful businessmen. While Roberts is the public face of Comcast--making deals, touting the stock--Burke is Mr. Inside. Burke puts direct reports through grueling budget reviews but allows them a lot of leash--a decentralized approach he learned from his father and his uncle, Jim Burke, a former Johnson & Johnson CEO. When Steve Burke joined Comcast in 1998, the company had 4.5 million customers and sold one product--cable TV. Today Comcast has 21.5 million customers and sells more broadband access than any other U.S. firm. It's the leading driver of on-demand programming, which goes beyond TV shows, movies, and sports to include videodating and karaoke. Amid all that, Burke is raising his family in Philadelphia--where he finds time to chauffeur his five children, ages 9 to 17--and has finished 13 marathons. The pay's not bad either: In 2004, Burke earned $21.7 million in salary, bonus, stock options, and a restricted stock grant. Last fall he signed a new five-year deal. -- Marc Gunther
MARY MINNICK Coca-Cola
ALL MARY MINNICK needs to do to succeed is turn around the world's most famous--but suffering--brand. She needs to create Coke's first winning ad campaign since "Always" ended in 1999. She needs to reinvent the company's new-product strategy. "Oh, my God," says Coca-Cola's marketing boss as she considers this to-do list. "I'm running out of here right now!" No chance. A 22-year Coke veteran, Minnick, 46, has lived through four CEOs in eight years, most recently as head of Coke's highly profitable Asia division. When CEO Neville Isdell approached her about becoming president of marketing, strategy, and innovation last spring, "I told him that I was never going back to Atlanta. I loved living in Hong Kong." Minnick went on to deliver a list of things Isdell needed to do to get Coke growing briskly again. His response: "Fine, I'll give you whatever you need." Minnick, thus empowered, has boosted spending on consumer research and R&D while pushing Coke to play catch-up in a U.S. beverage market gravitating to nutritional and energy drinks (see "The Pepsi Machine"). "In Japan, Coke launches 30 to 40 new products a year," Minnick says. "We don't need that hyperinnovation in North America, but we need more innovation than we've had."
What can you learn from Mary Minnick? "I define my career by forks in the road," she says, and this new turn certainly qualifies. The high-profile gig has put her on the radar of major CEO recruiters. (Muhtar Kent, just named to run Coke's global operations outside the U.S., is the company's other undisputed rising star.) One possible roadblock for Minnick: She has been known as a tough and sometimes abrasive boss--a burden, often unfair, that has been a handicap for many women leaders. "I've received coaching," she acknowledges. "It's not so much about softening as it is about being less intense and more balanced in my sense of urgency." It's a tricky balance to maintain. "Intensity has been a big contributor to my success," she adds. "A lot of times your greatest strength can be your weakness." -- Patricia Sellers
LLOYD BLANKFEIN Goldman Sachs
"IF I WEREN'T AFRAID to assert anything with any kind of confidence, I would tell you that I'm the most insecure person in the world." So says Lloyd Blankfein, 51, the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs. It's a comment not unlike one you might hear from former Treasury Secretary (and Goldman CEO) Robert Rubin, who's famously doubtful that any proposition is provable. Blankfein is an admirer of Rubin's, and while he's too savvy to admit it to a journalist, he'd surely like to follow in Rubin's footsteps. And he's heir apparent to current CEO Hank Paulson.
At least it looks that way now. Inside Goldman there has always been competition--"war" is probably too strong a word--between the bankers and the traders. Like Rubin, Blankfein came up through the trading ranks. The Bronx-born Blankfein put himself through Harvard and Harvard Law School and joined the J. Aron division of Goldman in 1981 as a gold salesman after the investment bank refused to give him a job. At that time J. Aron, which traded commodities, lacked both the prestige and the strict hierarchy of Goldman's investment bank. (When Blankfein asked about his title, a boss at J. Aron said, 'You can call yourself contessa if you want.'") But it was the perfect spot for someone like Blankfein, who friends and foes alike say is incredibly smart, has a preternatural instinct for making money, and has the rare ability to manage unruly traders. By 1994 he was co-head of J. Aron, and by 1998 he was co-head of all Goldman's fixed income, currency, and commodities. After the tech bubble burst, that business began to produce an increasing proportion of the firm's profits, and in 2003, Blankfein was appointed president and chief operating officer of Goldman, displacing heir apparent John Thain, who came from the banking side and who left the company soon after. (Blankfein downplays the rivalry between trading and banking, noting that trading opportunities arise from banking relationships.)
A trading-dominated shop has its disadvantages. Despite strong profits, Goldman's stock-price multiple has slid to just 11 times earnings because of worries about its trading risks. "We have to take risks or we lose our franchise," says Blankfein, who is careful not to portray himself as a swashbuckler. In fact, he describes himself as a "paranoiac," especially today, when the premiums on every kind of risk have fallen dramatically. "I say, 'My God, look at how much further things could fall--how much fatter the fat tails could be.'"
Whenever the 59-year-old Paulson retires--and people at Goldman say he will be around for quite a while--for the first time in the firm's history the board of directors, not the management committee, will choose the new CEO. (That's because there was no board when it was a private company.) If there's one lesson of the past few years, it's that life at Goldman is unpredictable. No wonder Blankfein says, "My cautious side says if I could lock in things as good as they are today, I'd be happy." -- Bethany McLean
ELLEN KULLMAN DuPont
TIMING MAY BE everything, but knowing how to exploit a timely opportunity demands more than luck. Seven years ago, DuPont CEO Chad Holliday asked Ellen Kullman to expand its service for training customers to use DuPont products safely. Kullman saw a larger opportunity and built a business to address the safety concerns of customers in such fields as food processing and aerospace. Then came 9/11, and risk prevention boomed. DuPont was way ahead; today Kullman's safety and protection division is the fastest-growing DuPont unit, with some $5 billion in annual sales. Her domain includes bullet-resistant Kevlar and contamination-proof medical packaging. Kullman, 49, is now on the short list to replace Holliday, 57, when he retires. "She has had excellent training," says Deutsche Bank analyst David Begleiter. Since joining DuPont in 1988, she's run more than a dozen businesses. When she was named to head a specialty-chemicals division in 1995, she became DuPont's first woman business-segment chief.
Perhaps Kullman is willing to push past DuPont's emphasis on old-school products--Cimarron herbicide, Tyvek home-wrap, Corian countertops--because she's not homegrown. She turned down a job at DuPont after graduating Tufts engineering school. Instead she went to Westinghouse, and then to GE, where at one point she worked directly for the vice chairman Edward E. Hood Jr. and Jack Welch. "At big companies it's hard to understand how decisions are made unless you experience it first-hand," Kullman says. "Welch [was] so upfront about the whys and what-fors, and it taught me about how to make tradeoffs and constantly make decisions." -- Julia Boorstin
JEFF BEWKES Time Warner
AS A BOY, Jeff Bewkes dreamed of becoming "the captain of a small ship. A fast ship," he says now. He'd do "some unconventional thing that leads to a big ship, part of a fleet." He'd face "the inevitable problems [caused by] the misactions of the others. And then ... somehow prevail." A case of boyhood dreams presaging life?
Employees and shareholders of FORTUNE parent Time Warner--where Bewkes is COO--may hope so. Other, higher-profile executives have at one time or another been expected to steer this boat--Steve Case, Bob Pittman, Ted Turner--and some were surprised when Bewkes emerged as the heir apparent to current CEO Dick Parsons. They shouldn't have been. "Jeff has three qualities that you want in a COO: He's smart, he's sensible, and he has great judgment," says his boss. After Deerfield, Yale, and Stanford, Bewkes toiled at Sonoma Vineyards and Citibank, then joined Time Inc.'s HBO unit in 1979 as a junior finance executive. By 1995 he had risen to CEO. He helped HBO morph from a pay-movie channel to a mini-studio--Sex and the City and The Sopranos happened on his watch--and a major profit center, contributing a reported $1 billion to TWX's $9.7 billion operating income in 2004. And if you think only yes men get ahead, think again: Bewkes was a vociferous critic of Time Warner's merger with AOL and has been known to be so candid that superiors--both sympathetic and not--have asked him to zip it. "I don't want to make somebody uncomfortable by being frank," he says. "But you're trying to find as much transparency as you can. It's an interesting combination to be as open as you can and as loose as you can, but you must make decisions as fast as possible. You keep the decisions transparent, and that allows you to correct them, because nobody figures this stuff out in one shot. My theory is iteration: You go, you talk, you act, and you check back on how did it work. You adjust course as you go, and it turns out that's the fastest way to move. So you're always moving and you're always deciding and you're always getting new information. You can actually provoke information by doing things that you can't figure out if you just sit there thinking." -- Andy Serwer
BOB MCDONALD Procter & Gamble
LOTS OF EXECUTIVES like to think of themselves as relentless. But Bob McDonald defines the word. While growing up in Arlington Heights, Ill., he decided that he would attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Like thousands of other applicants, he contacted his Congressman requesting a recommendation. He was 11 at the time. Not wanting to disappoint the youngster, the Congressman told him he could take the civil-service exam annually until he reached his junior year of high school, the official age of West Point applicants. So McDonald did just that, taking the test some six times before he was finally admitted at 17. "Hard work pays off," he says.
His Congressman, who happened to be Donald Rumsfeld, went on to run the Pentagon. McDonald finished 13th in his West Point class, served as an Army captain in the 82nd Airborne, and in 1980 joined consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, where he was determined to work his way up the corporate ladder. After spending two decades rising through P&G's cleaning and laundry divisions (Dawn, Cascade, Tide), he was tapped to run the multibillion- dollar northeast Asia region. (For those keeping score, A.G. Lafley, P&G's superstar CEO, ran all of Asia shortly before getting the corner office.)
If Lafley, 58, ever retires, P&G watchers say McDonald, 52, and now the company's vice chairman of global operations, is on the short list of candidates to take his place. "He is smart. He is serious. You can just read in his face how desirous he is to be an asset to this company," says Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, who counts McDonald as a trusted board member. Inside P&G, McDonald, who calls himself a "voracious observer," is known as a shrewd brand builder and a straight-talking nice guy. Does he want the top job? "I don't think I would turn it down, but it is premature," he says. "I have my hands full." Indeed, he currently oversees everything from customer marketing to sales, IT, and developing-country strategies.
When Lafley took over the $67.9 billion company five years ago, "we were probably reaching two-fifths of consumers," says McDonald. "We changed our strategy to focus more on developing markets and low-income consumers, and today we're reaching three-fifths of the world's consumers. But for P&G to really be successful, we want to reach all of them." Clearly, the guy thinks big. If the list of leadership tips he carries with him at all times is any evidence (No. 1: "Everyone wants to succeed"; No. 2: "Success is contagious"), the "s" word is never far from his mind. The company says the 58-year-old Lafley is not going anywhere anytime soon, which is just fine. McDonald will be waiting--unless someone poaches him first. -- Julie Schlosser