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The top two underrated CEOs

February 1, 2021, 11:25 AM UTC

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Good morning.

Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies list is out this morning, and the top three on the leader board won’t surprise you:  Apple (14th year in a row at #1), Amazon and Microsoft. Some of the others in the top 50 are less expected. You can find the full list here.

But here’s a result that may surprise. We asked the 3,800 corporate executives, directors and analysts who drive the survey: What CEOs do you think deserve more attention than they get. Satya Nadella won that “most underrated” contest for the fifth year in a row. 

But second place went to Mary Barra, who led GM through the early days of the pandemic and then managed a return to profitability. Worth noting that the polling was completed before her surprising announcement last Thursday, which she shared with members of Fortune’s CEO Initiative, that GM has set an “aspirational goal” of eliminating all tail pipe emissions by 2035. GM may not excite investors as much as Tesla—which now has ten times GM’s market cap, even though it sold only one-fifth as many cars last year. But the understated GM CEO is getting some good reviews.

Because we are a journalistic organization, we also polled for the “most overrated” CEO. Top of the list? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. 

And if you haven’t woken up yet this morning, read David Morris and Robert Hackett’s deep dive into the disturbing SolarWinds hack, and what business and government will have to do to fix it. Scary.

More news below.

Alan Murray



Chevron and Exxon's CEO's discussed a merger last year, in the context of the pandemic's hit on oil and gas demand. The Journal reports that the talks may return, but are not ongoing as such. If a merger does take place, of course, it would be one the largest in history. Wall Street Journal

Silver flocks

Retail investors—or Reddit trolls—have decided silver is the next big thing to artificially boost on the basis of it being "the biggest short in the world." As a result, silver futures rose by as much as 8.5% yesterday. Silver is a much bigger market than that for GameStop shares, though, and some of the /WallStreetBets most loathed opponents, such as Citadel Advisors, stand to profit from the metal's rise. P.S.: the GameStop game lost Melvin Capital Management a whopping 53% last month. Fortune

AstraZeneca doses

AstraZeneca will deliver 9 million more doses of its vaccine to the EU this quarter than it was promising a week ago. The new target of 40 million doses is still around half what it originally said it would deliver, but it's an improvement on the number that sparked an unholy row between the EU and the U.K., which signed its AstraZeneca contracts earlier than the EU did, leading the drugmaker to prioritize shipments there. Pfizer/BioNTech are also increasing their deliveries to the EU. Politico

Myanmar coup

There's been a military coup in Myanmar, and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained. The military says this is because of voting irregularities in November's election—a poll in which Suu Kyi's NLD party claimed 83% of the vote, and the military-backed USDP scored a measly 33 out of 476 seats. CNN


Greylock bankruptcy

The emerging-markets-focused hedge fund Greylock Capital Associates has gone Chapter 11, following three years of losses. It reckons it can still reorganize and "continue as a going concern." Bloomberg

Tasty data

Singapore's government has found the pile of data generated by its contact-tracing app too tempting not to use for other purposes, specifically criminal investigations. Phil Robertson, the deputy director in Asia for Human Rights Watch: "Singapore is saying to other governments, with a wink and a nod, that we’ve done it and you can do it too." Fortune

Checks unbalanced?

Some see President Biden's plan to disburse $1,400 checks to the U.S. populace as something that might do more harm than good. As Fortune's Geoff Colvin writes: "The problem is that more buying power—the purpose of stimulus checks—isn’t what the U.S. economy needs…Only $70 billion of Biden’s stimulus proposal would fund accelerated vaccinations and Covid-19 testing. For getting the U.S. economy back on track, that expenditure might be the most effective element in the whole package." Fortune

Try Bing

Australia's government isn't backing down after Google threatened to leave the country over a new law requiring payments to news publishers. Microsoft is "pretty confident" that its Bing search engine could fill a Google-shaped gap, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Reuters

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.