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Chinese Trail in Top CEO Rankings

Kevin Rivoli

Only three chief executives from mainland China make the top 100 in the latest ranking of corporate leaders' long-term performance – indicating that Chinese companies still have work to do to catch up with global competitors.

The ranking is based on growth in shareholder returns and market capitalization achieved during the tenure of chief executives appointed since 1995. It includes chief executives who have since left office.

(Read More: China Leaders on Power List Signals Asia's Growing Clout)

The 2013 list, published online on Friday by Harvard Business Review (HBR) , is topped by Steve Jobs, the late chief executive of Apple, who also led the 2010 ranking, ahead of Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com and Yun Jong-yong, former chief executive of Samsung Electronics.

Apple's share price has fallen sharply in recent months but, during Mr Jobs' tenure, the technology company's market value increased by an adjusted $359bn. "If you want to create a lot of shareholder value, it pays to take over a company that hasn't been doing well," the study noted.

The highest ranking mainland Chinese chief executive on the list is Li Jiaxiang, former chief executive of Air China, at number 17. However, only two others – Wang Dongming of Citic Securities and Dong Mingzhu of Gree Electric – make the top 100.

Chinese business leaders told the study's authors – Morten Hansen of University of California, Berkeley and Herminia Ibarra and Urs Peyer of Insead – that "as the country's companies become more innovation-focused, their performance will improve".

US companies' chief executives take six of the top 10 spots, but also generally punched below their weight. Their average position among the 3,143 chief executives analysed was lower than that of counterparts from Latin America, India and the UK. "US CEOs have not been as competitive on a global scale as one might think," the authors said.

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The study is one of the few to assess the long-term performance of corporate leaders, at a time when shareholders are increasingly focusing on short-term share price and earnings movements. In an interview with HBR, Mr Bezos – who told investors in 1997 that it was "all about the long term" – said: "If you're inventing and pioneering, you have to be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time."

The authors also found that there was no correlation between the financial performance of companies and their performance on social and environmental measures – scotching suggestions that greater corporate responsibility will automatically improve profits. "Clearly, it's not as simple as that," they said.

(Read More: Will 2013 Bring More Pain or Gain for China Stocks?)

Overall, the top 100 chief executives on the list generated and average total shareholder return of 1,385 per cent, and added an adjusted $40.2 billion to their companies' market capitalization during their tenure. The bottom 100 – which HBR does not name –saw returns drop 57 per cent on average, and presided over a$13.6 billion decline in market value. and their performance on social and environmental measures – scotching suggestions that greater corporate responsibility will automatically improve profits. "Clearly, it's not as simple as that," they said.

Overall, the top 100 chief executives on the list generated and average total shareholder return of 1,385 per cent, and added an adjusted $40.2 billion to their companies' market capitalization during their tenure. The bottom 100 – which HBR does not name – saw returns drop 57 per cent on average, and presided over a $13.6 billion decline in market value.

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