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CNBC Executive Leadership Awards

Annalisa Burgos

The Oscars for business.

That was how some attending the third annual CNBC Executive Leadership Awards gala at the Pierre Hotel in New York City Wednesday night described the event. More than 300 members of the business community donned gowns and tuxes to honor those executives who have shown exemplary leadership, inspiration and innovation in the past year, and pay special tribute to legendary Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan.

The former Fed chief, who also happened to be marking the one-year anniversary of his retirement, commended his successor in his acceptance speech.

"I suspect watching the last year with Ben Bernanke coming into something, which as I can tell you is not an easy job the first year, coming off spectacularly well," he said.

Greenspan was one of six recipients of an ELA.

“It’s the highest honor that I can possibly receive, although I’m still a little amazed that I did,”  said Southwest Airlines founder and chairman Herb Kelleher, who won the award for Entrepreneurial Excellence. “The people of Southwest Airlines have done an excellent job for 35 years and the reason I’m really here is because of them. They have carried me on their shoulders.”

William Weldon, CEO of Johnson & Johnson, was given the award for Leader in Business Practices.

“Ethics comes first. You have to always make sure you are doing what’s right,”  he said. “Leadership has to make sure that that is held up first and foremost. You have to be honest and fair.”

George David, CEO of United Technologies, took home the award for Leader in Human Capital Practices, while Citigroup’s Sallie Krawcheck was named Business Leader of the Future. Google CEO Eric Schmidt was not at the event to accept his award for Leader in Innovation. (The company's founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were the recipients of that award last year.)

“These awards really recognize the great work that’s done among the major corporations in this country,” said Mark Hoffman, President of CNBC.

“The winners are all driven, all very bright, all rely on great teams, they’re focused on innovation and all share a lot of qualities that are essential,” he added.

Each year for the ELAs, top executives from major companies, ranging from American Express to Home Depot, are asked to nominate two executives from companies other than their own, in five categories: Entrepreneurial Excellence, Leader in Business Practices, Leader in Innovation, Business Leader of the Future, Leader in Human Capital Practices. CNBC tabulates the ballots and prepares dossiers on the most-nominated candidates. An external judging panel reviews the dossiers and selects a winner in each category. The Lifetime Achievement award is chosen by an internal CNBC panel.

“I feel like it gives me a great responsibility,” said Krawcheck, who was recently named CEO of Citigroup’s Global Wealth Management division.

She joins Ebay’s Meg Whitman and Johnson & Johnson’s Christine Poon as the women leaders honored with a CNBC Executive Leadership Award. “I have a lot to accomplish and a lot to live up to over the next week, one year, five years, 15 years.”

The highlight of the evening came when CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo presented former Federal Reserve Chairman Dr. Alan Greenspan with a special Lifetime Achievement Award. He was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation for his historical 19-year tenure as head of the central bank.

The awards will be televised for the first-time on CNBC Monday, Feb. 5, at 9 p.m. EST and again at 12 a.m. EST.

ELA Honorees