Tim Cook’s approval ranking climbs one spot in top-50 CEO list

Gregg Keizer
24 March, 2014
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Even as Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to be blasted by some investors for not being the next Steve Jobs, the company’s employees boosted his approval rating to the 17th spot on an annual ranking of the top US chief executives.

Cook received an average approval rating of 92 percent from Apple workers on Glassdoor, an online jobs and careers website, between February 2013 and January 2014. That rating put Cook at No. 17, one place better than last year, but like his previous ranking, still behind other technology CEOs such as LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner (No. 1), Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs (No. 4), Intuit’s Brad Smith (No. 6), Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (No. 9), Google’s Larry Page (No. 10) and Salesforce.com’s Marc Benioff (No. 12).

Last year, in Glassdoor’s March 2012 to March 2013 tally, Cook received a 93 percent approval rating by Apple employees. The year before that, his first in the job, Cook held the top spot with an approval rating of 97 percent. Former CEO Steve Jobs had the No. 1 position for the 2010-2011 period with a 95 percent approval rating in the year before his death.

The one-percentage-point decrease in Cook’s approval rating – and his climb up one spot in the Top 50 rankings – isn’t especially meaningful, said Scott Dobroski, a community expert at Glassdoor who analyses the company’s data.

“It’s not unusual for a CEO to fluctuate as much as five percent year to year,” says Dobroski. “It’s when that reaches nine percent, 10 percent that you can see themes year over year, and what may have changed.”

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, for example, dropped to ninth place with an approval rating of 93 percent, six percentage points lower than last year’s 99 percent. “Most CEOs would kill for that,” says Dobroski. “He’s still one of the most iconic tech leaders of all time, but what’s changed is a more bureaucratic feeling in the company, and employees are citing young managers. That’s not that surprising. Facebook has grown, it’s past the IPO euphoria and employees are feeling a bit more of the bureaucracy.”

Cook continued to fare much better than Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, who not only did not make Glassdoor’s top 50 CEO cut, but saw his approval rating drop from 47 percent for 2012-2013 to 39 percent for 2013-2014. Ballmer, who retired in early February and was replaced by insider Satya Nadella, was in charge during Glassdoor’s evaluation period.

“It was just a coincidence,” says Dobroski of the synchronisation between the end of Glassdoor’s one-year ratings period and Ballmer’s retirement.

Glassdoor CEO chart

Apple CEO Tim Cook's approval rating fell one percentage point in the last 12 months, but he stepped up one spot to No. 17 on Glassdoor's top 50 CEO list. (Image: Glassdoor.)

Ballmer’s numbers had been worse: for the 2011-2012 stretch, his approval rating was an even more dismal 35 percent.

In a hint of what might have been for Microsoft, Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, who was frequently cited as a top candidate as Ballmer’s replacement, was ranked No. 2 by Glassdoor for the year, with an approval rating of 97 percent. Mulally took himself out of the running for Ballmer’s job in January, but insider reports contested that, saying the Microsoft board had moved on to others.

Cook also outscored technology CEOs such as eBay’s John Donahoe (No. 19, at 91 percent), Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (No. 32, 86 percent) and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer (No. 49, 79 percent).

Glassdoor asks employees, “Do you approve of the way your CEO is leading the company?” to calculate its rankings.

Dobroski argues that there is a correlation between Glassdoor’s CEO approval rating and employee satisfaction. Highly ranked chief executives are by definition clear communicators who make their message and the company’s mission plain to employees, positively affecting morale.

“In the 50 companies with the highest rated CEOs, the average employee satisfaction score was 3.6,” says Dobroski. “The average overall was 3.2. That’s what happens when you have a leader who the troops are rallying behind.”

by Gregg Keizer, Computerworld

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