The world’s top-performing CEO is Novo Nordisk boss Lars Rebien Sørensen, according to a global ranking from the Harvard Business Review (HBR).
The 2015 edition of the global CEO list saw Sørensen jump five spots from last year, when he was named the top CEO from outside of the United States.
Sørensen has risen to the top of the rankings on the success of Novo Nordisk’s booming insulin business. The company’s net profit reached 26.48 billion kroner (3.55 billion euros, $4.04 billion) in 2014 as revenue grew six percent to 88.8 billion kroner.
Nearly 400 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes and Novo Nordisk controls 47 percent global market for insulin products.
The company has performed particularly well on the North American market, which accounted for 61 percent of Novo Nordisk’s growth last year. That growth should be further boosted after the US Food and Drug Administration approved Novo Nordisk's obesity drug Saxenda.
In an interview with HBR, Sørensen attributed the company’s success to sticking to its core business.
“Outsiders sometimes come in and say, ‘You’re dependent on diabetes for 80 percent of your revenue—you should diversify.’ But I’ve always believed that you should do things that you know something about, that you’re good at. We’ve tried a lot of diversification strategies in the past, but we’ve failed because of the inherent scientific and commercial uncertainty and our own naïveté,” the world’s top CEO said.
Sørensen has been with Novo Nordisk for 33 years and has been at the company’s helm for 15. He said that in that time he’s “been part of some of the most stupid mistakes”. The 61-year-old downplayed his spot on the top of the global rankings.
“I don’t like this notion of the ‘best-performing CEO in the world’. That’s an American perspective—you lionize individuals. I would say I’m leading a team that is collectively creating one of the world’s best-performing companies,” he told HBR.
Sørensen described his leadership style as “Scandinavian” and “consensus-oriented” but added that the six years he spent working in the US made him “slightly more aggressive than the typical Scandinavian business leader”.
The Novo Nordisk head topped the HBR’s list in performance but was far behind most of the other entries in another metric: salary.
“I saw that in last year’s list of best-performing CEOs, I was one of the lowest paid. My pay is a reflection of our company’s desire to have internal cohesion. When we make decisions, the employees should be part of the journey and should know they’re not just filling my pockets. And even though I’m one of the lowest-paid people in your whole cohort, I still earn more in a year than a blue-collar worker makes in his lifetime,” he said.
Sørensen’s total compensation was 19.3 million kroner ($2.95 million, 2.59 million euros) in 2013, according to Bloomberg.
Novo Nordisk announced in August that it would invest $2 billion in new facilities in the Copenhagen suburb of Måløv and in the US state of North Carolina. The following month, the company said it would build a 70 million euro (522 million kroner, $78 million) facility in Iran, to signal its “long-term commitment” to the country.