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Fortune 500’s ultimate reunion: The top CEOs of 1995

Key Speakers At The World Business Forum New York 2013Key Speakers At The World Business Forum New York 2013
Jack Welch, former chief executive officer of General Electric Co., stands for a photograph at the World Business Forum in New York.Photograph by Peter Foley — Bloomberg via Getty Images

At first glance, the top of the 1995 Fortune 500 looks awfully familiar.

Just like 20 years ago, the top 10 companies in this year’s Fortune 500 include Ford Motor (F), General Electric (GE), General Motors (GM) and Walmart (WMT), though not in the same order. Exxon and Mobil are still ranked near the top, only now they’re part of the same company. But, AT&T (T) and IBM (IBM) have fallen just outside the top 10, while Sears Roebuck (now Sears Holdings (SHLD)) is now far from the upper echelons of the list, and Philip Morris goes by a completely different name.

But what about the people who led those companies two decades ago? Some of those men (yes, all men) have settled into quiet retirement, while others are still making news. And, not surprisingly, a couple of them have passed on. In every case, though, these former CEOs had to face the same big question: What do you do after leading one of the world’s biggest companies?

Here’s a look at what the CEOs from the top 10 companies of 1995 have been up to.

1. John “Jack” F. Smith, Jr., General Motors

CEO of General Motors, Jack Smith, speaking in front of company logo. (Photo by Dennis Cox/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

1995: Then in his fourth year as GM’s chief executive, Smith had been touted in a Fortune feature story a year earlier as the engineer of “the biggest turnaround in American corporate history” at the iconic automaker. In 9 years as CEO, Smith oversaw a massive overhaul at GM, streamlining operations and phasing out the underperforming Oldsmobile division, as well as the company’s expansion in Asia.

Today: After leaving GM in 2003, Smith spent three years as non-executive chairman of the board for Delta Air Lines and also served on the board at Procter & Gamble and Swiss Reinsurance. Smith is now retired and his former executive assistant at GM, Mary Barra, has the reins of the company. GM is no longer at the top of the Fortune 500 — it’s No. 6 — but its annual revenue is something of a blast from the past, barely edging out the company’s 1994 sales total.

2. Alexander Trotman, Ford Motor

Ford Motor Co. Chairman Alex Trotman, 61, talks with reporters about the new trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan at the automaker’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters Wednesday, June 28, l995. With record sanctions only hours away the two countries averted an economic war with an agreement on automobile trade. Trotman said he hoped to see better results quickly. A l995 Mustang GT is in the rear of the picture.(AP Photo/Richard Sheinwald)

1995 – Trotman was wrapping up his fourth decade at Ford in the mid-90s while serving out a 6-year stint as the Mustang-maker’s first foreign-born chairman and CEO. Trotman, who was born in the U.K., ascended to the company’s top position a year after Ford posted a record loss, but the company recorded more than $5 billion in profits in 1994.

Today – Trotman died in 2005. He retired from Ford at the end of 1998, following a boardroom battle over the selection of his successor, and later served as a director of the U.K.’s Imperial Chemical Industries.

3. Lee R. Raymond, Exxon

N 342399 001 12/1/98 New York City Exxon And Mobil Announce Their Merger At A Press Conference. (Left) Lee R. Raymond, Chairman Of Exxon, (Right) Lucio A. Noto, Chairman Of Mobil. (Photo By Jonathan Elderfield/Getty Images)

1995 – Raymond was in the early stages of his 13-year tenure as CEO of Exxon (and, later, ExxonMobil) in 1995. A few years later, Raymond was one of the chief architects of one of the biggest mergers in corporate history: Exxon’s $80 billion combination with Mobil. In 1994, the combined annual revenue of the two companies was $160 billion. Ten years later, when Raymond retired, ExxonMobil (XOM) brought in more than twice that amount, placing the company atop the Fortune 500.

Today – Raymond reportedly took home a $400 million retirement package when he stepped down in 2005. Since then, he has served in various posts, including as president of subsidiary Mobil Holdings Ltd. along with stints as chair of the National Petroleum Council and American Petroleum Institute.

4. David Glass, Wal-Mart Stores

Wal-Mart CEO David Glass. (Photo by Michael L. Abramson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

1995 – Glass was well into his 12-year stint (1988 to 2000) at the top of what is now the world’s largest company by annual revenue. He had a tough act to follow in his predecessor, legendary founder Sam Walton, but Glass did as much as anyone to turn Walmart into the global behemoth it is today. In 1994, the company’s revenue was $83 billion, more than five times better than when he took the job, and it would grow to $165 billion by the time he retired.

Today – Glass stepped down at the beginning of 2000 to focus on baseball. After spending the previous seven years as CEO of the Kansas City Royals, Glass bought full control of the baseball team later that year. As an MLB owner, Glass is often criticized for stinginess when it comes to the payroll of the small-market Royals, who have posted only three winning seasons since Glass took over. But Glass’s team did advance to the World Series last year for the first time in nearly three decades before ultimately falling to San Francisco.

5. Robert Allen, AT&T

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 20: AT&T C.E.O. Robert Allen smiles during a press conference 20 September in New York to announce the three way split of the AT&T Corp. AT&T will remain the largest provider of long distance service whilst dropping its involvement in the personal computer business. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read JON LEVY/AFP/Getty Images)

1995 – Allen endured a stormy tenure atop AT&T. In 1995, the company was still smarting from Allen’s ill-advised decision to buy computer company NCR, costing AT&T billions. In 1996, Allen took heat for cutting 40,000 jobs while defending his own pay raise.

Today – Allen stepped down in 1997 and spent the next decade as a board member at PepsiCo (PEP). Allen also served as a public trustee of the Mayo Clinic and as an independent director of Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) before his retirement. In 2005, when AT&T was sold off to “Baby Bell” SBC Communications, Allen called the deal “probably the best thing that could happen to AT&T.”

6. John “Jack” Welch Jr., General Electric

206811 08: John F. Welch Jr. – CEO of General Electric, New York city, March 15, 1994. (Photo by Stan Godlewski / Liaison Agency)

1995 – “Neutron Jack” was in the latter half of his legendary two-decade run as chief executive at GE — a run that would end, in 2001, with the company’s market value up nearly 3,000% from the time Welch’s tenure began. 1995 was also the year that Welch famously outfitted GE with Six Sigma, the cultish corporate management philosophy focused on quality control. Four years later, Fortune named him “Manager of the Century.”

Today – When Welch retired, he walked away from GE with a severance package worth more than $400 million that initially included use of a Manhattan apartment and a private jet. Welch has had a high-profile retirement, with frequent television appearances and writing gigs in which he offers his expertise on anything from management theory to criticisms of government jobs reports. (Welch even wrote several columns for Fortune, until he quit in 2012.) The former GE guru also penned a New York Times bestseller with his wife and he lent his name to an online MBA program offered by Strayer Institute.

7. Louis Gerstner Jr., IBM

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Louis V. Gerstner Jr. answers questions at a news conference in New York after he was introduced as the new chief executive of IBM 26 March, 1993. Gerstner became the sixth chief executive of the world’s biggest computer company.

1995 – IBM might not be in a position to attempt its latest turnaround were it not for Gerstner’s efforts at the helm of Big Blue. Gerstner took over as CEO in 1993, with IBM’s mainframe business in shambles, but the CEO cut costs (and thousands of jobs) and transformed IBM by shifting its focus to software and services. IBM’s market value improved from $29 billion to $168 billion under Gerstner’s watch.

Today – Gerstner left his role as IBM’s CEO and chairman in 2002. Until 2008, he served as chairman of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, where he is still a senior advisor. He previously served on a number of public company boards, including American Express (AXP), Bristol-Myers Squibb, and The New York Times. Gerstner is also a best-selling author, thanks to his account of IBM’s turnaround, and he is currently chairman of the board for the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

8. Lucio Noto, Mobil

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Lucio Noto (R), chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Mobil Corporation, answers the question about how he and Lee Raymond (L), chairman and chief executive officer of the Exxon Corporation, decided to merge their two oil companies, at a news conference in New York 01 December. Raymond will be the chairman, chief executive officer and president of the new Exxon-Mobil Corporation and Noto will join the Exxon-Mobil board of directors as vice chairman. Raymond said the merger will cost two billion dollars and lead to the elimination of 9,000 jobs worldwide. The merger, if approved, will be the largest in US history. AFP PHOTOS Henny Ray ABRAMS (Photo credit should read HENNY RAY ABRAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

1995 – The other primary architect of the massive 1999 merger between Exxon and Mobil, Noto was in just his second year as CEO of Mobil in 1995 after more than three decades at the oil giant.

Today – Noto took on the role of vice chairman of the combined ExxonMobil, but stayed at the company for only about a year, leaving in 2001 to become a managing partner at energy investment vehicle Midstream Partners. Noto has served on various corporate boards and is currently a director of Penske Automotive Group, RHJ International and cigarette-maker Philip Morris International.

9. Edward Brennan, Sears Roebuck

** FILE ** Edward Brennan shown in a 1992 file photo in Chicago when he was Chairman of Sears. American Airlines chairman and chief executive Donald Carty resigned Thursday, April 24, 2003 as labor leaders and negotiators for the carrier reached a tentative deal to help the company avert bankruptcy. Gerard Arpey, the company’s president, will replace Carty as chief executive, while board member Edward Brennan will take over as chairman. (AP Photo/Mark Elias, File)

1995 – Sears Roebuck was the country’s largest retailer when Brennan became CEO in 1986, but the company’s dominance waned during his tenure as Walmart ate up market share, and Brennan spun off many of Sears’ financial services holdings. By 1995, the company had long ago abandoned its Chicago headquarters in the former Sears Tower and Brennan was on his way out as CEO.

Today – Brennan died in 2008. After stepping down at Sears, in 1995, Brennan served on corporate boards at AMR Corporation (American Airlines’ parent), McDonald’s, and 3M. Meanwhile, Sears sold to rival retailer Kmart in 2005, although the combined company continues to struggle with slipping sales and an annual revenue far below what Sears alone saw in 1994.

10. Geoffrey Bible, Philip Morris

NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Geoffrey Bible, chairman and CEO of Phillip Morris Companies, Inc., takes questions at a New York news conference 26 June 2000 to announce that Phillip Morris will acquire Nabisco for 55 USD per share in cash at a value of 18.9 bilion USD and will assume approximately 4.0 billion USD in net debt. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

1995 – Australian-born Bible took over Philip Morris in 1994 when the tobacco company’s sales were still rising thanks to a diverse array of holdings, including Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing. But years of tobacco industry lawsuits and heightened government regulations took a toll and Philip Morris sold off some of its biggest holdings before eventually rebranding itself as Altria Group (MO) in 2003, one year after Bible stepped down.

Today – After leaving Philip Morris, Bible on the boards of various companies, including News Corp., as well as SABMiller, where he continues to serve as a non-executive director.