Get To Know Your CEO

Nathan is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

While it’s sometimes an easy fact for investors to forget, a company is much more than just a collection of products and services, numbers on a balance sheet, or a stock price. It’s a living, breathing, ever-evolving team of people organized to unite and accomplish a specific and shared goal in unison. And - like any other team - a company requires a strong, intelligent, capable, and insightful leader.

The purpose of this article is to introduce and examine the founders and leaders of today’s most influential businesses and to analyze how their unique management techniques have and will influence their company’s investors.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG)

Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful” while adhering to the company’s unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil.” Google’s focus on unbiased objectivism and consumer protection blessed the company in countless ways, allowing the once tiny startup to grow into one of the most powerful, valuable, and influential technology companies ever.

In 2004, Google debuted on public markets at $85/share. The company closed its first session at $100.34 and ended the year at $194. However, not everything was perfect in the kingdom. Concern was growing that Google’s “Don’t be evil” culture would be overtaken by the short-term demands of shareholders. In 2006, Google added “Chief Culture Officer” to Head of HR Stacy Sullivan’s title to ensure that the company’s unique essence would be preserved.   

Today, Larry and Sergey -- who are currently committed to a 20-year agreement to remain employed by Google until at least 2024 -- continue to lead the company into uncharted territory. Recently overtaking industries such as GPS navigation and mobile software development with innovative and free products, Google truly inspires the thought: “What will they think of next?”

Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO)

Yahoo! was founded in 1995 by Jerry Yang and David Filo. The company grew rapidly throughout the 1990’s, quickly becoming one of the most visited web properties in the history of the internet. However, as the internet grew larger and more difficult to organize, Yahoo! would eventually succumb to the fierce competition of innovative and nimble competitors -- namely Google.

After passing over a $44.6 billion unsolicited bid from Microsoft in 2008, Yang was ousted as CEO. From there, Yahoo! faced year-after-year of shrinking revenues, underinvestment, mismanagement, and declining stock prices. It looked like there was no hope for the struggling former web giant.

Until, on July 17, 2012, Marissa Mayer - a former Google executive - took the reins as CEO of Yahoo! with a promise to reinvigorate and breathe life into the dying empire. Mayer has since rolled out numerous refreshing product updates, vastly improved the company’s long-heralded and unique culture, and given shareholders and top employees confidence by overseeing a 30%+ increase in the company’s stock price since she took over.

At this point, a bet on Yahoo! is a bet on Marissa Mayer -- and that's a bet Wall Street appears willing to make.

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA)

Named after legendary engineer and physicist Nikola Tesla and founded in 2003 by Elon Musk & friends, Tesla Motors intends to commercialize electric vehicles from the early-adopter stage the industry is in now all the way to mass market production. With products such as the Tesla Roadster -- the first fully electric sports car -- and the Model S -- a fully electric luxury sedan -- Tesla has already revolutionized the fledgling electric vehicle industry.

Elon Musk is a South African-born American entrepreneur who is best known for founding SpaceX and co-founding Tesla Motors and Paypal. His experience in tech startups and extreme interest in electric vehicles long predate the creation of Tesla Motors. Musk showed his incredible confidence and faith in the long-term prospects of Tesla when he funded the majority of the company’s $7.5 million Series A capital investment round with personal funds.

In 2010, Tesla Motors made history by being the first American automaker to debut on public markets since Ford’s IPO in 1956. Opening at $17 per share, the company raised $226 million from its initial offering.

Today, the company trades over $35, and Musk’s reported stake of 32% is valued at over $1 billion. With Elon Musk behind the wheel, it appears that Tesla Motors is cruising in the right direction.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL)

Everyone knows the Steve Jobs story. He founded Apple in 1976 with Steve Wozniak, left in 1985 after power struggles with the board, founded NeXT and Pixar, came back in 1996, and eventually conquered the world of consumer electronics before his death in 2011.

Tim Cook took over shortly before the death of Steve Jobs and was tasked with maintaining the incredible level of quality, attention to detail, and simplicity that defined the products that facilitated the greatest turnaround in business history. On Aug. 20, 2012, Apple became the most valuable stock to have ever traded when it closed the day with a market cap of $665.15 billion. The previous record was held by Microsoft’s $623.5 billion market cap on Dec. 30, 1999.

However, the past six months have been harsh for Apple. After hitting an all-time high of $705.07, shares of the company slid to a 52-week low of $435. After reporting earnings that missed analyst expectations, many investors appeared skeptical of the company’s ability to maintain strong growth and record-shattering profits with its new management team and increasingly fierce competition. But, with an estimated $137 billion in cash reserves, the company also appears to be in a great position to innovate and experiment in a variety of new industries, such as TV's and wearable computing.

Apple’s future is certainly a mystery. There’s no denying that the influence of Steve Jobs still exists within the company’s products and designs to this day. With brand new concepts and ideas soon-to-be revealed at Apple, we’ll finally see if Tim Cook will be able to guide the company to higher highs, or if investors will always be doomed to say "remember when?"

In Summary

Many companies rise and fall due to the vision and ability of their leaders. Every person mentioned in this article has or had a unique vision for the future of their company and - by extension - for the world. I want to thank you for reading this brief glimpse of some of the most capable leaders of the world’s most popular companies. In the comments, feel free to tell the world about your favorite founder or CEO!

As usual, this is by no means an endorsement of any stock or a recommendation to buy or sell any stock. My goal is simply to educate, amuse, and enrich. Thanks for reading!


nbradham has a position in Yahoo!. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google, and Tesla Motors . The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Tesla Motors . Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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