Business Today
Meet India's Best CEOs for 2014
The king is dead, long live the commoner. May she also stay out of CAG reports.
(Clockwise from top) Anand Mahindra, Mahindra & Mahindra; N Chandrasekaran, TCS; GV Prasad, Dr Reddy's Laboratories; Arun Kumar, Strides Arcolab; Bhadresh K Shah, founder & MD, AIA Engineering; Siddhartha Lal, Eicher Motors; GV Bhaskar Rao, Kaveri Seed Co

(Clockwise from top) Anand Mahindra, Mahindra & Mahindra; N Chandrasekaran, TCS; GV Prasad, Dr Reddy's Laboratories; Arun Kumar, Strides Arcolab; Bhadresh K Shah, founder & MD, AIA Engineering; Siddhartha Lal, Eicher Motors; GV Bhaskar Rao, Kaveri Seed Co

Tim Cook is lauded for coming out of the closet and Satya Nadella lambasted for an insensitive remark on equal pay for women. Marissa Mayer is criticised for resuming work too soon - 14 days - after giving birth to a baby boy. Mark Zuckerberg's grey T-shirt is the biggest point of interest at some of his "news" conferences.

This is the era of the always-under-the-lens CEO. That gets compounded by the fact that this is also the era of the short-lived CEO.

The average CEO tenure shrank by nearly two years between the years 2000 and 2012. It rose slightly after that because a handful of them delayed their retirement to tide over the financial crisis. In the last four years alone, two General Motors CEOs were out in nine months each. In contrast, the first of them, Alfred P. Sloan Jr., lasted 23 years and 24 days in the job.

But then, Sloan was part of the first crop, those who took charge around the time the concept of the CEO took shape in 1917. They - Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and others - were the modern, industrial monarchs. They were the human embodiment of their companies, the kind that went on to have foundations and fellowships named after them.

FULL COVERAGE:India's Best CEOs 2014

Their days are gone. Gone also is the office culture of the 1960s, where men drank and smoked in office meeting and dealt with their secretaries in a manner that would have them fired under today's laws. The end of that culture may have something to do with the rise of the woman CEO; 26 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women.

In India, some of the most redoubtable woman CEOs are in banking and financial services - the one sector that is not part of this year's BT Best CEO study. But the role of the CEO has expanded no less here. They have to not just manage their companies but also cope with rapidly changing policies - some of which change retrospectively - without the benefit of legal lobbying. They can no longer coast along once a licence has been obtained, as their predecessors before 1991 could.

The modern CEO still manages budgets, but that may seem like a cakewalk in comparison to managing talent. Today's workforce is a pool of people whose aspirations rise as their commitment to an employer falls. They are also fiercely touchy about access to the social media - ask Vishal Sikka of Infosys. The social media, by the way, also has customers and trolls. And the CEO has to deal with all this while making sure that her name, or that of her company, does not appear in a CAG report.

Given the travails, the least we can do is raise a toast to those who have done well. Turn the pages for stories of success and brace up to meet some unforgettable personalities.

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