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Meet the new Fortune 500 CEOs

June 2, 2021, 10:15 AM UTC

Precious few of us will ever know what it’s like to be a ballplayer who is called up to the big leagues.

But in corporate America, being named to the Fortune 500 list certainly feels like the equivalent of hitting the big time.

“We’ve been a company for 50 years, and for this event to occur during our 50th year is pretty amazing,” says Adena Friedman, president and CEO of Nasdaq, which is making its debut at No. 480, up from No. 620 last year. 

“It has been an aspiration to be a part of the Fortune 500 for many years now. We feel like we’re ready—and we’re in great company.”

It’s a particular achievement after this pandemic year, with the biggest public health crisis in generations wreaking havoc on the economy. While facing such a high degree of difficulty, navigating your company onto the Fortune 500 is especially notable.

On this year’s list, there is no shortage of CEOs who are new to this exclusive group. Some are newly named chief executives of companies that were already on the list, and some are CEOs of firms brand-new to the club.

“Of course every leader would love to be a part of that group,” says Brian Goldner, CEO of Hasbro. The famed toymaker returns to the list at No. 494. “It’s a point of arrival, but also a point of departure. It sets a new bar for what’s possible.”

Let’s take a look at some of the Fortune 500’s freshest faces.

Turnover at the top

There is a notable abundance of new talent right near the top of this year’s list. In fact, 56 companies that were on last year’s Fortune 500, and made this year’s as well, are sailing under new captains.

No. 4 CVS Health installed Karen Lynch as CEO in the past year, while No. 5 UnitedHealth is now led by Andrew Witty. Meanwhile, John Stankey heads up No. 11 AT&T, and James D. Farley Jr. sits atop No. 21 Ford Motor.

Particularly welcome is some racial and gender diversity among these powerful new CEOs. Drugstore chain Walgreens Boots Alliance at No. 16 is now led by Roz Brewer; No. 33 Citigroup is helmed by Jane Fraser; and financial services giant TIAA (No. 79) by Thasunda Brown Duckett.

A couple of industry sectors stood out in terms of executive changes: Energy saw a number of new arrivals like No. 294 FirstEnergy’s Steven Strah, No. 160 PG&E’s Patricia Poppe, and No. 249 Consolidated Edison’s Timothy Cawley. 

Financials as well saw a flurry of new CEOs in the corner office. Those include No. 187 Synchrony Financial’s Brian Doubles, No. 47 Freddie Mac’s Michael DeVito, and No. 72 AIG’s Peter Zaffino. 

First-timers: intriguing debuts

Most of the Fortune 500 companies are holdovers from last year—but a surprising number are new to the party this year (24 are making their debut while 15 are returnees). 

And they didn’t just barely sneak onto the list, either. This year’s highest-ranking debuts included No. 171 Carrier Global’s David Gitlin, No. 194 Rocket Companies’ Jay Farner, No. 236 Otis Worldwide’s Judith Marks, and No. 254 Viatris’s Michael Goettler (Carrier Global and Otis Worldwide are returnees). 

There are also a number of household names that will need no introduction to the American consumer. This year’s list includes two well-known returnees: Chipotle Mexican Grill at No. 464, headed by Brian Niccol, and No. 478 Yum! Brands (parent company of familiar eateries KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell) and its CEO David Gibbs. At No. 485 there is Electronic Arts led by Andrew Wilson.

In a year when health care was at the top of everyone’s mind, that field saw a number of introductions to the list: No. 448 Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Reshma Kewalramani, No. 459 Alexion Pharmaceuticals and Ludwig Hantson, and No. 487 Select Medical Holdings’ David Chernow.

Retailers also made a notable showing, despite an immensely challenging year for that sector. Highlights there included No. 403 Chewy’s Sumit Singh and No. 483 Carvana’s Ernest Garcia III. 

All of these Fortune 500 newcomers have one challenge in common: Now that they have made an impressive entrance, the task ahead is to keep up that momentum and come out of this year with renewed focus and drive.

“I always say, ‘Complacency is the killer of every great company,’” says Nasdaq’s Friedman. “So we are looking to improve every single day.”

Hasbro’s Goldner, whose background includes film producing, thinks of the milestone in terms of storytelling. In other words, it’s a major plot development in the story of Hasbro—but it’s not the finale.

“It’s not Act Three, it’s more like Act Two,” he says. “We still see so much runway for growth in our business. Coming out of the pandemic, we’re going to see what Hasbro is really made of.”

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