CEOs of 2012: Two All-Stars and the Biggest Loser

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

Sometimes one of the most important parts of a company is ignored. People always pay attention to the products and services a company has to offer, but often forget entirely about the "quarterback" of the company. A few CEOs have done a remarkable job this past year, and some have had a year worth forgetting.

Because I want to end on a good note, I will start with arguably the most underwhelming CEO of 2012. Andrew Mason of Groupon (NASDAQ: GRPN) wins the "Underwhelming Performance Award" this year. Most people would admit that being the CEO of a major company is not easy, but Mr. Mason's performance didn't even meet the minimum standards. Foremost his recent interactions with the media have proven him evasive and obnoxious.  

Another public shortfall occurred in Groupon's listing while going public. Mason submitted the wrong financials, which obviously affected its IPO and stock price. Unless Mason takes change seriously with Groupon, I don't see much change moving forward. For a company that Mason declares as the "fastest growing company in the world," its stock price has plummeted despite a growing revenue of 38% last year.

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On a brighter note, there are two companies whose CEOs have done a remarkable job. Steve Jobs' passing cast uncertainty on Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) performance. All eyes were fixed on the company and the new CEO, as leadership took an unexpected transition. Tim Cook took over a company whose performance set a new standard and a level of excellence that demanded nothing short of perfection from its new CEO.

There have been many things for Tim Cook to overcome this year, and yet the company has still performed remarkably well. Apple had a shake up with management, disturbing occurrences with Apple Maps that led to several employee terminations. Tim Cook worked hard through difficult situations and has seen the results that generally follow hard work -- success.

To the question, "What will happen to Apple in Steve Jobs' absence?," the answer seems to be "Move forward and succeed." Despite iPhone 5 sales out performing the iPhone 4S in the short time its been available, stocks have still dropped recently. This is due to investors' unforgiving expectations. Even with the recent dip in stock price, Apple has beaten the S&P 500 over the past year. Is there any reason that Apple will not rebound and continue its remarkable success? After all, even with all of the obstacles their revenue still increased 27% in 2012. 

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AAPL data by YCharts

Another CEO that has done a remarkable job this year is Howard Shultz. Shultz orchestrated yet another growing year for Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX). Shultz has taken a company that has grown for nearly 30 years, and led it to another successful year, outperforming the S&P 500.

Starbucks has always been known as a company that treats its employees well and creates an incredible experience for its customers. This success starts at the top with Shultz. Shultz's leadership continues to give Starbucks a durable competitive advantage. Not very many companies excel as well as Starbucks at selling a premium product, excellent service, and a great atmosphere.

With a 17% increase, Starbucks had smaller growth in revenue than Apple and Groupon. However, Shultz's leadership demonstrates how to manage money and grow a company. Starbuck's same store sales increased 7% this year. A lot of Starbucks' growth is due to their ever changing versions of coffee. In late November, they released yet another product with their $7.00 grande cup of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera coffee.

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^SPX data by YCharts

The Bottom Line...

After examining these businesses, I think it becomes obvious how important leadership is. If CEOs work with integrity, treat their employees right, and make good business decisions, their company will likely see success. Why is it that people view a quarterback in the NFL as the most important position in all of sports? Probably because quarterbacks have the most obvious role as leaders. Don't forget about leadership -- it often determines your success. 

tlwofford has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. 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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