Four survivor CEOs since Nasdaq last hit 5,000

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C-suite survivors, the story of 4 CEOs

Almost 15 years have passed since the Nasdaq first broke the 5,000 mark. Now, after the bursting of the dot-com bubble and a long recovery, the index is poised to pass that mark again.

The Nasdaq has changed though, as many of the companies that first drove the index to that lofty level have gone.

Still, a few that defined the index in 2000 have survived and thrived, as have their top executives—an unusual feat given the average tenure of an CEO is 9.7 years, according to the Conference Board.

"What these CEOs have in common is that they are business innovators, they have an ability to reinvent themselves and, importantly, they are not afraid to hire other people to help them reinvent," said Mike Kwatinetz, a general partner at the venture firm Azure Capital Partners.

The CEOs Kwatinetz is referring to are: Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Starbucks' Howard Schultz, Oracle's Larry Ellison and Cisco's John Chambers. All four were CEOs when the Nasdaq last hit 5,000 and all, save for Ellison, who stepped down as CEO last year but remains as chairman, are still in that role.

"They understand the business cycle," said Columbia Business School adjunct professor William Klepper when asked how these CEOs have lasted this long. "That it's like an 'S' curve with peaks and valleys and they've figured out what practices are best employed—what is the agenda."

Two of the four, Bezos and Ellison, are founders, and Schultz and Chambers were with their companies at the very early stages. Schultz bought the four original Starbucks outlets in 1987 and Chambers joined Cisco in 1991, becoming CEO four years later.

"The two things that strike me is that they are not only not just business innovators, they are organizational builders," said Don Hambrick, the Evan Pugh professor of management at Penn State University. "To have a great idea is rare enough, but to build a thriving organization is extraordinary. They are not Johnny-one-notes."