Three chief executive officers from the Chinese mainland are among the world's top 100 corporate leaders rated according to their long-term performance by the Harvard Business Review this year.
But their number is too small in stark contrast to the country's economic influence in the world, management specialists said.
Of the best-performing CEO list, Li Jiaxiang, former CEO of Beijing-based Air China, is ranked 17th — the highest position of all Chinese candidates. Wang Dongming, CEO of Beijing-based CITIC Securities is ranked 83rd and Dong Mingzhu of Zhuhai-based Gree Electric Appliances is rated 98th.
The list is compiled according to a company's shareholder return and market capitalization growth during the CEO's term.
"China has been the growth miracle of the past decade, so you might expect CEOs there to have done very well, but we find that the opposite is true," wrote Morten T. Hansen, Herminia Ibarra and Urs Peyer, who compiled the best-performing CEOs list.
"Among the 3,143 CEOs we analyzed, the average rank of Chinese executives was 176 places lower than the average rank of US executives. Only three Chinese (mainland) companies' CEOs made the top 100, though 17 percent of all the executives studied were from China," the trio of compilers added.
But some experts believed the low ranking of China's CEOs is because of the lower competitiveness of Chinese companies.
"Chinese CEOs have to spend a lot of time dealing with the government apart from steering their companies in the business world," said Liu Shengjun, executive deputy director of CEIBS Lujiazui Institute of International Finance.
"As a result, Chinese chief executives can hardly fully devote themselves to making innovations to their companies and enhancing competitiveness," Liu said.
Li Jiaxiang is famous for his slogan "a general who fears to unsheathe his sword is not a good general". When Li led Air China between 2004 and 2008, the company's total shareholder return outperformed its peers by 1,022 percent, and the carrier's market capitalization increased by 237 billion yuan ($38 billion) during the same period, according to a list of Chinese business leaders released by the compilers in July.
As one of China's most internationalized companies, CITIC Securities' performance is outstanding among all Chinese securities companies. China's top brokerage firm bought CLSA from Credit Agricole SA of France for $1.25 billion in July, and has a Japanese managing director, Tokuchi Tatsuhito.
"I have a lot of respect for Dong Mingzhu. There is no other home electric appliance company as focused as Gree, which spends so much time mainly on air conditioners, while other major home electric appliance companies broadly expand their product lines," Liu said. "It is very hard for a company to resist temptation for other opportunities and be focused, but focus brings success."
According to Liu, China's home electric appliance producers have little bargaining power against dominant retailers Suning and Gome, but Dong was not willing to accept dozens of yuan profit for making a television. Instead, she stood up and created Gree's retail chain.
"I am actually a little surprised by the first two names. To my understanding, the list should choose CEOs from fully open and competitive industries, but both aviation and securities in China are still dominated by the State sector," said Yin Xingmin, professor with Fudan University.
"In that sense, Dong Mingzhu should be the highest ranking CEO from the Chinese mainland in the list as the industry that Gree Electric is in is full of fierce competition," Yin said.
Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, topped the list, followed by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Yun Jong-yong, former chief executive of Samsung Electronics.
"Looking at the top three, they are chief executives that make their products or services change the world or make life better. This is the direction for Chinese companies to follow in the future," Yin said.
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