Tim Cook's approval ranking climbs one spot in top-50 CEO list

Apple CEO has approval rating of 92%, behind rivals like Zuckerberg and Page, but again thumps ex-CEO Ballmer

Even as Apple CEO Tim Cook continues to be blasted by some investors for not being the next Steve Jobs, the company's employees boosted his approval rating to the 17th spot on an annual ranking of the top U.S. chief executives.

Cook received an average approval rating of 92% from Apple workers on Glassdoor, an online jobs and careers website, between February 2013 and January 2014. That rating put Cook at No. 17, one place better than last year, but like his previous ranking, still behind other technology CEOs such as LinkedIn's Jeff Weiner (No. 1), Qualcomm's Paul Jacobs (No. 4), Intuit's Brad Smith (No. 6), Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (No. 9), Google's Larry Page (No. 10) and Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff (No. 12).

Glassdoor CEO chart
Apple CEO Tim Cook's approval rating fell one percentage point in the last 12 months, but he stepped up one spot to No. 17 on Glassdoor's top-50 CEO list. (Image: Glassdoor.)

Last year, in Glassdoor's March 2012 to March 2013 tally, Cook received a 93% approval rating by Apple employees. The year before that, his first in the job, Cook held the top spot with an approval rating of 97%. Former CEO Steve Jobs had the No. 1 position for the 2010-2011 period with a 95% approval rating in the year before his death.

The one-percentage-point decrease in Cook's approval rating -- and his climb up one spot in the Top-50 rankings -- wasn't especially meaningful, said Scott Dobroski, a community expert at Glassdoor who analyzes the company's data.

"It's not unusual for a CEO to fluctuate as much as 5% year to year," Dobroski said. "It's when that reaches 9%, 10% that you can see themes year over year, and what may have changed."

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, for example, dropped to ninth place with an approval rating of 93%, six percentage points lower than last year's 99%. "Most CEOs would kill for that," said Dobroski. "He's still one of the most iconic tech leaders of all time, but what's changed is a more bureaucratic feeling in the company, and employees are citing young managers. That's not that surprising. Facebook has grown, it's past the IPO euphoria and employees are feeling a bit more of the bureaucracy."

Cook continued to fare much better than Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, who not only did not make Glassdoor's top-50 CEO cut, but saw his approval rating drop from 47% for 2012-2013 to 39% for 2013-2014. Ballmer, who retired in early February and was replaced by insider Satya Nadella, was in charge during Glassdoor's evaluation period.

"It was just a coincidence," said Dobroski of the synchronization between the end of Glassdoor's one-year ratings period and Ballmer's retirement.

Ballmer's numbers had been worse: For the 2011-2012 stretch, his approval rating was an even-more-dismal 35%.

In a hint of what might have been for Microsoft, Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally, who was frequently cited as a top candidate as Ballmer's replacement, was ranked No. 2 by Glassdoor for the year, with an approval rating of 97%. Mulally took himself out of the running for Ballmer's job in January, but insider reports contested that, saying the Microsoft board had moved on to others.

Cook also out-scored technology CEOs such as eBay's John Donahoe (No. 19, at 91%), Amazon's Jeff Bezos (No. 32, 86%) and Yahoo's Marissa Mayer (No. 49, 79%).

Glassdoor asks employees, "Do you approve of the way your CEO is leading the company?" to calculate its rankings.

Dobroski argued that there was a correlation between Glassdoor's CEO approval rating and employee satisfaction. Highly ranked chief executives are by definition clear communicators who make their message and the company's mission plain to employees, positively affecting morale.

"In the 50 companies with the highest-rated CEOs, the average employee satisfaction score was 3.6," said Dobroski. "The average overall was 3.2. That's what happens when you have a leader who the troops are rallying behind."

This article, Tim Cook's approval ranking climbs one spot in top-50 CEO list, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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