One reason I particularly value our annual Businessperson of the Year feature is that it introduces me to leaders I should have known but didn’t. I’m not talking about famous ones like our No. 1 pick – Nike CEO Mark Parker – but about lower-profile CEOs among the other 49 other executives we single out for producing exceptional results over the past year. Mixed in among the business celebrities like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Uber’s Travis Kalanick, we find other knockout performers you’ve probably never heard of running businesses far from Silicon Valley, both literally and metaphorically. They can teach us much about leadership. Meet five of them:
Mary Dillon, CEO, Ulta Beauty. If someone tried to sell you on the business she leads, you’d probably turn and run. Purveying beauty products and salon services in strip malls while retail giants including Target, Kohl’s, and Walgreens are ambitiously improving their beauty sections? Sounds impossible. Yet Dillon is delivering some of the strongest results in retail, increasing operating margins while adding hundreds of stores.
Ma Mingzhe, CEO, Ping An. We read that China’s economy is slowing, but Ma apparently hasn’t heard. Ping An, which he founded, is the country’s life insurance giant, and it’s riding the galloping growth of China’s middle class. The company has 145 million online customers and annual revenue, recently $105 billion, has more than tripled since 2010. And Ma’s not stopping there: Today, he’s diversifying into banking and finance.
Morris Goldfarb, CEO, G-III Apparel. At age 24 he took over his father’s small leather coat store. More than 40 years later he’s running a global empire that makes apparel for many of the world’s biggest brands, including Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Guess, and Cole Haan. It also makes team-branded clothes and other items for teams in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities. Profits are booming.
Gregory Sandfort, CEO, Tractor Supply. Surely this business is an ironically-named hipster hangout in Brooklyn where plaid-shirted patrons drink PBRs, right? No, it is what it says. You can buy tractor parts at this 1,400-unit chain, as well as sporting goods, lawn care equipment, boots, pet supplies, and much else. Performance is so strong that, as a Wells Fargo analyst observes, Sandfort has won “kind of a cult following on the Street.”
Vernon Nagel, CEO, Acuity Brands. Acuity somehow prospers in the lighting business, which is dominated by a few global giants like General Electric and Philips. Nagel, CEO since 2004, is making acquisitions to focus the company on high-tech lighting. Sales and profits are surging.
It’s so easy to overlook star performers who aren’t hatching mind-bending new business models or achieving mammoth valuations in the fevered private market. These four CEOs remind us there are many kinds of successful leaders. Check our new ranking for more eye-opening examples.
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What We’re Reading Today
Walmart workers plan protest ahead of Black Friday
A worker group will hold protests outside stores and company executives’ homes, while others will fast over raising the minimum wage at the retailer to $15. The demonstrations will last for 15 days, leading up to Black Friday. This comes as CEO Douglas McMillon has led Walmart in raising the minimum wage to $9 this year and $10 in 2016, reshaping pay scales within the industry and limiting the company’s profits. Walmart calls the protests “media stunts” heading into the largest shopping day of the year. Reuters
Warren Buffett versus Wall Street
The relationship has turned cold as some say that Buffett participates in the same profit maximizing deals that the rest of Wall Street gets lambasted for (sometimes by Buffett himself). He, however, doesn’t receive the same backlash. It has become a public gripe recently, with activist investor Bill Ackman openly criticizing Buffett’s investment in Coca-Cola. There’s even a saying: “Do as Warren Buffett does, not as he says.” WSJ
Bob Iger joins effort to create an L.A. NFL team
The Disney CEO has joined Carson Holdings, a joint effort by the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders to build a stadium for the two teams in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. Iger will serve as non-executive chairman, but he brings a lot of weight to the attempt to entice sponsors to support two teams in L.A., which has long been a goal for the National Football League. Fortune
Bernie Sanders’s reluctance to attack
On Saturday, when the Democratic presidential candidates debate for the second time, Bernie Sanders plans to increase the number of attacks against Hillary Clinton. But he’s reluctant to mention her use of personal email while she was head of the State Department or her stances on gun control unless he’s asked. That could limit Sanders’s ability to ding her character at an important moment when Clinton is solidifying her position in the polls.
Building a Better Leader
Beware the Reddit forum
REI CEO Jerry Stritzke thought he would be welcomed when he held a Q&A session on the social site after announcing that his employees would have a paid holiday on Black Friday. Instead it turned into a forum for angry former employees to express their ire. NYT
Don’t be so hard on the liberal arts degree
They tend to excel in “soft skills.” Fortune
If you can’t get funding for your startup…
…maybe you need to look at how you’re presenting yourself. Quartz
Fidelity continues its startup mark-downs
In a quarterly filing, Fidelity has marked down Dropbox 19.5%, database startup MongoDB 11.77% and digital advertising platform Turn 25.7% from the companies’ May value. This comes after Fidelity marked down the value of its investments in Snapchat, Zenefits, and Blue Bottle Coffee. It’s another indication that some of the “unicorns” that have blossomed over the past few years now face a tighter valuation market. Fortune
LoanDepot postpones IPO
The $2.6 billion valued non-bank mortgage lender decided to hold off on its initial public offering yesterday. CEO Anthony Hsieh‘s company had planned to sell 30 million shares at a price of $16 to $18. Blaming market conditions, the 11th largest mortgage lender in the U.S. also faces concerns that the company isn’t any different than regular lenders. But it’s also dealing with a cooling investment market, which has led Jack Dorsey‘s Square to set a target price below its reported valuation when it goes public next week. WSJ
Zenefits struggles to reach sales goals
The hot human resources startup with a $4.5 billion valuation has a hiring freeze as it struggle to reach its unicorn-sized expectations. Eight executives have also left due to cuts in pay. The Parker Conrad run company had a goal to reach $100 million in revenue by January, but was at only about $45 million by August. Business Insider
Up or Out
Dell CIO Paul Walsh is stepping down. He will be replaced by Scott Pittman until a permanent replacement is found. WSJ
Donald Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, has resigned as CEO of Graham Holdings. He will remain as chairman. Graham’s son-in-law Timothy O’Shaughnessy will replace him as CEO. WSJ
Juniper Networks has hired Kevin Walker, a former VP at Wal-Mart, as its chief technology officer for security. Teleanalysis
Fortune Reads and Videos
General Motors to sell an SUV made in China…
…in the U.S. CEO Mary Barra‘s decision comes partly because SUVs are so sought after in China that the manufacturer there is already building the Buick SUV at a rapid pace. Fortune
A Google self driving car gets pulled over…
…for driving too slow. Fortune
If a startup gets regulatory bodies’ attention…
…then it’s a sign that the company is disruptive, says venture capitalist Simon Rothman. Fortune
‘Uber for Choppers’ tries an AirBnB tactic…
…while fighting a New York City noise bill. Blade is the latest startup to use its user base to try and stop a city’s action. Fortune
Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel turns 48 today. Biography
Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, turns 61 on Saturday. Biography
Heir apparent to the British throne Prince Charles turns 67 on Saturday. Biography
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|Produced by Ryan Derousseau|
Editor’s note: Yesterday, we mentioned that Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year was Nike’s CEO. We called him Matt Parker, but of course his name is Mark. We regret the error.