Battley: Top Turnaround CEOs of 2012

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This year's business newsmakers included a number of "Turnaround CEOs."

Here is my 2012 round-up of corporate leaders in high-stakes rescue, restructuring and reinvention roles.

Four of the seven listed are first-time CEOs.

Several replaced chief executives who had failed to turn around their companies fast enough.

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Robert Benmosche
SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Robert Benmosche

Mission Accomplished

Robert Benmosche, AIG

Benmosche, 68, former head of Met Life, came out of retirement to became chief executive of AIG in 2009. He has been busy ever since trying to restore the health and reputation of a firm tarnished by its near collapse. He recently achieved what many thought was next to impossible: the US Treasury exiting its stake in the company with a $22.7 billion profit four years after its $182 billion bailout.

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Ron Johnson
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Ron Johnson

Turnarounds Under Way

Ron Johnson, JC Penney

Retail iconoclast Johnson is wrapping up year one of his four-year reinvention plan for the 110-year Penney's. The company, which was experiencing a sales and product quality decline before he joined in 2011, has seen its stock price nose-dive this year by more than 50 percent. His strategy involves transforming selling floors into shop-in-shops with popular branded merchandise. He has also introduced a controversial "fair-and- square" pricing model. He expects to start seeing business results of his retail reinvention in 2013.

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Thorsten Heins
Source: Research in Motion
Thorsten Heins

Thorstein Heins, Research in Motion

Heins took over RIM, the maker of Blackberry devices, last January. After bringing in a new management team, he made a critical decision to continue investment in RIM's own operating system rather than adopt the Android system. Blackberry 10, which Heins views as the company's platform for the next decade of mobile computing, launches in late January 2013. This all-important debut will be the first real test of his ability to deliver.

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Sherilyn McCoy
Source: Avon
Sherilyn McCoy

Sherilyn McCoy, Avon

McCoy joined Avon in April, after losing her bid for the top spot at Johnson & Johnson. She immediately faced a daunting fix-it list that included an eroded share price, settling a bribery probe, and tackling underperforming markets in Asia. Then she had to fend off a takeover by Coty. For starters, she brought in a new executive team. Recently, the company announced it is pulling out of the South Korea and Vietnam markets and cutting 1,500 jobs worldwide in an effort to stabilize their business. Her makeover of Avon is in the early stage.

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Marissa Mayer, Yahoo

At 37, Mayer is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Her arrival at Yahoo in July signaled the third CEO transition in three years for the struggling company. Her central challenge is to figure out the company's big picture strategy: what, exactly, is Yahoo? So far, she has shuffled executives and focused on improving Yahoo's culture. She made her first acquisition of Stamped, a start-up focused on mobile products, in October. Yahoo recently refreshed its board of directors, adding PayPal co-founder Max Levchin as a member.

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Hubert Joly
Kalpak Pathak | Hindustan Times | Getty Images
Hubert Joly

Hubert Joly, Best Buy

Frenchman Joly became CEO of the struggling electronics retailer in August after his predecessor Brian Dunn was forced out for personal misconduct. His immediate action items - to cut costs, improve customer service, create a better online experience - were nothing new. Instead, his focus has been on successful execution. Meanwhile, Best Buy co-founder and former Chairman Richard Schulze still has time to make a buyout bid. This holiday season's performance will be an important indicator of his capabilities to reverse the company's steady decline to online stores and discount competitors.

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ChinaFotoPress | Getty Images

Meg Whitman,Hewlett-Packard

Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and Republican candidate for Governor of California, took the reins of this monumentally troubled company in September. Soon thereafter she warned that a turnaround of the company would take four to five years, with profits continuing to decline for at least another year. She now has another mess to tackle: HP's $11 billion Autonomy acquisition fiasco. Is this massive turnaround a "mission possible or impossible"?

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Only one of these "Turnaround CEOs," RIM's Thorstein Heins, was promoted from within. Meg Whitman was a board member of HP before becoming chief executive. The others were external hires with proven track records and prestige corporate pedigrees. Except for AIG's Benmosche, we will have to wait and see how all their plans and efforts play out in the new year.

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Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD, is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a strategic leadership advisory firm that works with world-class CEOs and boards. A psychologist and management consultant, her expert commentary on CEO effectiveness and trends has been featured on TV and her articles have appeared in leading publications, including Oxford University Press and Leader to Leader.