Six fierce CEOs to watch: Masterminding, mobilizing and managing great change

Eric Schmidt joined Google as CEO in 2001—at that time managing a few hundred employees. He then stepped back to become chairman, when the company had grown to 32,000 employees; and to become executive chair of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in 2015, with oversight of 72,000 employees. Obviously, as a manager, he was doing something right. But what are the qualities of a chief executive who can grow a startup to become a world leader within a span of less than 20 years—and within a business environment that can only be described as turbulent and combative?

Speaking recently to Reid Hoffman—the LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner who hosts the podcast, Masters of Scale—Schmidt said that “persistence is the single biggest predictor of future success….And the second thing [is] curiosity.”

We asked the editors of our sister publications—FierceHealthcare, FiercePharma, FierceBiotechFierceTelecom, FierceCable, FierceWireless and Hotel Management—to pick six CEOs with those and other “super strengths” who would be masterminding, mobilizing and managing great change within their own industry sectors during the second half of this year.

And as we look at the challenges and opportunities that the following CEOs will confront this year, we would add confidence and creativity to Schmidt’s short list of attributes.

1. John Legere

John Legere, Chief Executive Officer of T-Mobile US | Bellevue, Washington

John Legere
John Legere

Legere, who has been in the top spot at the nation’s third-largest mobile network since September 2012 and has 32 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, is known for his irreverent attitude and his brash, 360-degree turnaround strategy. T-Mobile has effectively disrupted the market in recent years as carriers have moved away from two-year contracts and subsidized handsets and toward zero-rated data offerings and unlimited plans.

The network operator added 1.1 million total net subscribers during the first quarter of 2017, marking four full years of adding more than 1 million customers each quarter; and it posted $7.3 billion in service revenue, up 11% year over year. Now, the company has plans to launch a nationwide 5G network starting in 2019 for greater performance, if not greater speed. And the carrier will use some of its newly acquired 600 MHz spectrum to help do it. T-Mobile was the top bidder in the FCC’s incentive auction last spring, agreeing to spend nearly $8 billion to acquire the low-band airwaves.

More on: John Legere, T-Mobile

2. Keith Barr

Keith Barr, Chief Executive Officer of InterContinental Hotels Group | Denham, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom

Keith Barr
Keith Barr

Following the unexpected retirement of Richard Solomons after a six-year term as CEO, Keith Barr stepped into the job on July 1, and accepted a position on the board of directors. His appointment follows nearly 17 years of experience with the company—most recently, as IHG’s chief commercial officer.

InterContinental Hotels Group is the third largest hotel operator in the world, after Marriott and Hilton, in terms of number of rooms in greater than 5,000 hotel and resort properties. The company continues to focus on “leveraging scale in our priority markets,” according to its first quarter report this year—“opening 49 hotels in the quarter...and signing hotels into our pipeline at the fastest rate for the first quarter since 2008.” IHG also strengthened its boutique portfolio with the opening of a Hotel Indigo property in downtown Los Angeles. Despite the change in leadership, analysts are bullish on the company's growth this year. 

More on: IntercontinentalHotels Group

3. Les Moonves

Les Moonves, Chairman of CBS | New York, New York

Les Moonves
Les Moonves

Moonves has been CEO of CBS since January 2006 and chairman of CBS’ board of directors since February 2016. Previously, he served as an executive for Viacom and Warner Bros. Television. Moonves exited 2016 with greater industry power after former chairman Sumner Redstone resigned, and Moonves received support from Redstone’s daughter, Shari Redstone, to be the new chairman.

CBS closed out the 2015-2016 television season as the number one network for the 13th time in 14 seasons; and also won the number one spot for series, new drama, comedy and news program. In February, the company reported that it brought in $1 billion in broadcast retransmission fees last year, putting it ahead of schedule in terms of growth rates it set for itself. CBS’ fourth-quarter 2016 revenues were down slightly year over year, due to a “significant international licensing agreement” for Showtime last year; as well as airing three fewer Thursday Night Football games this quarter.

More on: Les Moonves, CBS

4. Andy Rubin

Andy Rubin, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Essential | Palo Alto, California

Andy Rubin
Andy Rubin

Rubin, who left Google in 2014, is the engineer best known for creating Android, an operating system that now powers more than 2 billion phones, televisions, cars and watches. On May 30 of this year he was back with what he has described as the “antiphone”—a $700 smartphone called the Essential Phone PH-1 and a smart-home hub called Home that he believes will deconstruct and bring order to the IoT’s copious protocols, standards and systems.

He envisions a platform, to be called Ambient OS, that will be endlessly extensible and will provide, literally, Android for Everything. But right now, the phone’s the thing. Perhaps its most attractive doohickey is a high-end Snapdragon 835 processor camera that Essential has described as ‘one of the world’s best phone cameras.” Will consumers buy into it? The phone still has two strong competitors: Apple and Samsung. Essential began taking preorders for the device from U.S. buyers in early June.

More on: Andy Rubin

5. Yitzhak Peterburg

Yitzhak Peterburg, Interim Chief Executive of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. | Petach Tikva, Isreal

Yitzhak Peterburg
Yitzhak Peterburg

Peterburg stepped into the job of CEO in February, after the company’s former President and CEO Erez Vigodman stepped down––becoming the third consecutive leader to leave the job. Peterburg has served on the company’s board of directors intermittently since 2009 and as chairman of the board since 2015. In addition, Peterburg completed a stint as Teva’s Group Vice President–Global Branded Products, leading R&D efforts at Teva from 2010 through 2011. Thus, he is well-versed in the opportunities and challenges that the multinational, 116-year-old company faces today.

Among the stumbling blocks ahead: dealing with a successful patent challenge against its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware last January; as well as a Department of Justice investigation into generic drug price fixing that began in December 2016. In addition, the company has faced investor angst over the acquisition of Allergan’s generics division for $40.5 billion in 2016–a price many thought was excessive.

But just as intriguing as Peterburg himself is the uncertainty around the Teva CEO position. As the company continues its search for a permanent CEO, rumors have surfaced and dissipated around other pharma executives taking the spot—most notably, Astra Zeneca CEO Pascal Soriot.

More on: Yitzhak Peterburg, Teva Pharmaceutical

6. Nicholas (“Nico”) Tejeda

Nicholas (“Nico”) Tejeda, Chief Executive Officer of The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus | El Paso, Texas

Nicholas Tejeda
Nicholas Tejeda
(The Hospitals of

Tejeda took on his current job in May 2016 and—despite the turmoil within the industry at the national level—for the first time in his life, he says, he actually loves what he is doing and cannot wait to get to work each morning. He now oversees the nation’s newest teaching hospital, which opened in January in collaboration with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center-El Paso. Most exciting about this opportunity, he told FierceHealthcare last March, is the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish the culture of a new organization that will serve a medically underserved area.

"This has changed my life,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough that the cliché is true. The value of finding a job you love is immeasurable, and if you love your job you don’t work a day in your life. I’m blessed.” And his dedication has been rewarded. Tejeda, age 37, won the Robert S. Hudgens Memorial Award for Young Healthcare Executive of the Year at the American College of Health Executives’ 2017 Congress on Healthcare Leadership in Chicago last March. Tejeda went to El Paso after being CEO at California's Doctors Hospital of Manteca.

More on: Nicholas Tejeda

Now tell us whom you would pick! Send your selections to [email protected]

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Peterburg was CEO of Teva's U.S. operation but he is CEO of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and based in based in Petach Tikva, Isreal. We regret the error.