Leading the future with AI … Jensen Huang, founder of NVIDIA, is the world’s best performing CEO of 2019

October 30, 2019

Jensen Huang cofounded NVIDIA in 1993, building more powerful computer chips for video games. The 56 year old Taiwanese American entrepreneur, worth $4.6bn, is now leading the AI revolution, and has just been ranked as “the World’s Best Performing CEO” of 2019.

Huang, actually named Jen-Hsun rather than Jensen graduated from Oregon State University and then gained a masters in electrical engineering from Stanford. His strategy when founding the tech business was to focus on a single niche: building powerful computer chips to create graphics for fast-moving video games. As the company went public in 1999 and grew through the 2000s, video games remained its growth engine, but even back then Huang could see a different path forward.

Data scientists were beginning to ask computers to perform much more sophisticated calculations more quickly, so NVIDIA began spending billions of dollars on R&D to create chips that would support artificial intelligence applications. By the mid-2010s its AI-focused chips had come to dominate this nascent market, showing up inside autonomous vehicles, robots, drone aircraft, and dozens of other high-tech tools.

NVIDIA’s stock market performance shows how this bet has paid off: From late 2015 to late 2018, the company’s stock grew 14-fold—a performance that puts Huang at the top of HBR’s list of best-performing CEOs in the world this year. Huang was previously ranked #2 in 2018 and #3 in 2017.

Here are the top 10 in HBR’s “World’s Best Performing CEO of 2019”:

  1. Jensen Huang, NVIDIA (USA)
  2. Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com (USA)
  3. François-Henri Pinault. Kering (France)
  4. Richard Templeton, Texas Instruments (USA)
  5. Ignacio Galán, Iberdrola (Spain)
  6. Shantanu Narayen, Adobe (USA)
  7. Ajay Banga, Mastercard (USA)
  8. Johan Thijs, KBS (Belgium)
  9. Satya Nadella, Microsoft (USA)
  10. Bernard Arnault, LVMH (France)

Unlike rankings that are based on subjective evaluations or short-term metrics, it relies on objective performance measures over a chief executive’s entire tenure. It’s no surprise, then, that 65 of last year’s CEOs reappear this year. Last year’s top performer, Pablo Isla, of the Spanish retailer Inditex, moved from CEO to chairman, taking him out of consideration for 2019.

Since 2015 HBR’s ranking has been based not only on financial performance but also on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings. For the past four years they’ve weighted ESG scores to account for 20% of each CEO’s final ranking. This year that became 30%. The shift reflects the fact that a rapidly growing number of funds and individuals now focus on far more than bottom-line metrics when they make investment decisions. One sign of this changing sensibility: In August 2019, 181 U.S. CEOs who are members of the Business Roundtable signed a statement affirming that the purpose of a corporation is to serve not just shareholders but four other groups of stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, and communities.

The change in ESG weighting did create one casualty: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. On the basis of financial performance alone, Bezos has been the top CEO every year since 2014. However, he failed to make this year’s list owing to Amazon’s relatively low ESG scores. According to Sustainalytics, one of two ESG data firms that assist HBR with its ranking, those scores reflect risks created by working conditions and employment policies, data security, and antitrust issues.

As in past years, women are underrepresented among the 100 leaders. However 4 female CEOs made the ranking this year (all are in the top half), up from three in 2018 and just two in prior years.