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Meet the drug company exec who’s ranked the world’s top CEO

October 12, 2015, 7:46 PM UTC

16. Lars SØrensen

CEO, Novo Nordisk Sørensen isn't afraid to take calculated risks: Five years ago he jettisoned the drug maker's diabetes-pill research (while others were pouring money into it), betting instead that injected insulin would continue to be the most effective diabetes treatment. The bet paid off. The pill market shrank because of safety worries and patent expirations, and today Novo Nordisk is the world's biggest insulin producer. Sørensen has positioned the Danish company to keep profiting from the global epidemic: degludec, a new diabetes drug, is close to winning approvals. --OA
Photo: John McConnico/Bloomberg/Getty

To find the executive that Harvard Business Review says is the world’s top performing CEO, don’t bother looking in New York or Silicon Valley.

The honoree, Lars Rebien Sørensen, CEO of Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, is based in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

The publication placed Sørensen atop its annual list that measures CEOs’ enduring success. Its rankings are based heavily on a company’s long-term financial results and—for the first time this year—take into account its environmental, social, and governance performance as measured by investment research firm Sustainalytics.

Sørensen displaced last year’s No. 1, Jeff Bezos of Amazon (who’s now No. 87 thanks to HBR’s new methodology), in part because his company made the decision to focus almost exclusively on diabetes treatment, which has driven up the company’s sales and stock price. Sørensen also benefited from factors that don’t show up in financial data: Novo Nordisk offers insulin at a steep discount to consumers in developing countries, it has transparent and limited political lobbying practices, and it abides by a what Sustainalytics deems a “responsible” policy on animal testing.

John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems is number two on the list. Pablo Isla of Inditex, the Spanish clothing company that owns Zara; Elmar Degenhart of German automotive manufacturing company Continental, and Martin Sorrell of WPP, a marketing services group, round out the list’s top five.