Bosses Day: Who are America's Top 5 leaders?

On Bosses Day 2009, here are America's Top 5 head honchos.

Adam Hunger/Reuters/File
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon spoke at Harvard Business School in Boston in June. He heads our list of top honchos on Bosses Day 2009.

On Bosses Day, we are reminded of the hundreds of things bosses do to make life at work both profitable and even, sometimes, something to look forward to.

Here are our picks for America's Top 5 chiefs. Got a quibble? Let us know on Twitter.

(Like a good boss, what we promised yesterday we deliver today.)

Honorable mentions:

Stille family, owners of Nugget Market: In 81 years, not a single layoff for this West Coast gourmet supermarket chain.

Jeffrey Hollender, CEO and Chief Inspired Protagonist, Seventh Generation: Beyond his company’s ecofriendly products, Mr. Hollender is a passionate advocate for environmental causes from corporate responsibility to sustainable palm-oil production. Employees at Seventh Generation are encouraged to question the boss – and get a host of incentives to make their lives more green.

5. Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin, General Manager and Head Coach, New York Giants

Since teaming up in 2007, Reese and Coughlin have won 70 percent of their games and a Super Bowl title – with player costs at 6 percent below the league average. That's 83 percent more victories per dollar of payroll compared to the league average, the best rate in the NFL.

Mr. Coughlin is no hand-holder, to be sure. But the combination of Coughlin's tough love and Reese's deft player evaluating touch have built a team that manhandles opponents week after week.

4. Seventeen owners, South Mountain Co.

At South Mountain Co., a construction and design firm that specializes in energy efficiency, five years of service lets any of its 32 employees buy into the company. When the recession hit, the 17 employee-owners had to decide how to make it through a drop in projects. They stopped contracting out some work. They did community projects for little gain. They took on small jobs. And didn't hand out a single pink slip.

At a place that spends 6 percent of revenue on worker benefits including 100 percent of healthcare costs (and even 50 percent of one employee's adoption), being a boss among bosses is truly sweet.

3. Dan Gilbert, CEO of Quicken Loans

His company's been in the top 30 of Fortune 100's top places to work for six straight years. It also headed an index of best places to work in tech from 2005 to 2007. And the year after he bought (and overhauled) the Cleveland Cavaliers, they were in the NBA Finals. Dan Gilbert, ladies and gentlemen, gets it done.

But he's also taking a stand in Detroit, one of America's most economically devastated cities. From moving corporate headquarters from the suburbs to downtown to funding Detroiters' entrepreneurial education, Mr. Gilbert is not only leading a company and a basketball squad, he's doing the heavy lifting for a city in dire need of revitalization.

2. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple

In a recently released ranking of the world's top 50 business thinkers, Mr. Jobs is the highest ranked executive at No. 4. What makes Jobs an ultimate boss is his ability to bring brilliant people together to make breathtaking products. The best contributors are those - whether software developers, poets, artists or math whizzes – who have "exposed themselves to the best things humans have done and then brought those things into their projects.”

And with some flashy new tech baubles en route to back up Apple mainstays, watch out.

1. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase

(A captain of the financial industry that almost brought the global economy to its knees? You're nominating him? you ask. Yes, we say. Yes indeed.)

In a time of runaway financial gambling, Mr. Dimon and team largely held back. When that rampant speculation turned toxic, JPMorgan stood tall enough to not only weather the storm but take on some financial flotsam. Oh, and they just beat analysts' predictions for third-quarter earnings with a robust $28.8 billion in revenue.

As he told Harvard's graduating class of MBA's in January, "If you want to be a leader, it can't be about money. And it can't be about you. It's about what you will eventually leave behind. What would you want on your tombstone. Think about that when you become a leader. For mine, I just hope they say 'We miss him, and the world is a better place for him having been here.' "

David Grant is a Monitor contributor.

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