This year’s world’s top CEO according to the Brand Finance Brand Guardianship Index 2021 is Mastercard’s Ajay Banga.

Mr Banga announced his transition from CEO to executive chairman in 2020, rounding off a successful and decorated 10 years as CEO. Since taking the helm of Mastercard, Mr Banga has embraced technological innovation, ensuring the brand remained relevant despite a period of rapid change in financial services. Mr Banga also champions the idea of financial inclusion, and has leveraged his influence to build strategic partnerships with financial institutions worldwide to help fight poverty.

Close behind Mr Banga is the 2nd highest ranked brand guardian, Jensen Huang of Nvidia. In the past 5 years, graphics- and chip-maker Nvidia has witnessed rapid brand value growth due to Mr Huang’s leadership, as well as the recent acquisition of ARM which is expected to deliver huge synergies and further momentum to Nvidia’s AI capability growth. Mr Huang established Nvidia in 1993, and has since built a brand with innovation in its DNA. A well-known philanthropist, Mr Huang has donated US$30 million to Stanford University to establish and engineering centre, and US$5 million towards cancer research labs in Oregon.

The 3rd best brand guardian in 2021 is Reed Hastings of Netflix. In January, Netflix announced it has surpassed 200 million subscribers for the first time. Mr Hastings has openly shared that Netflix today was his vision from day one, the DVDs were always a substitute for the future potential he knew the internet offered. Netflix’s working culture is famously open and non-hierarchical, guided by Mr Hasting’s ’no rules’ rules. Netflix continues to invest billions of dollars in original content development, refreshing the international offering to subscribers. In the past 5 years, Netflix’s brand value has grown by an average of 40% per year and the platform has become a household brand across the world.

David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance, commented: “COVID-19 has presented perhaps the greatest challenge to all CEOs this year. Leaders have had to both protect the financial interests of shareholders and protect their people from the very real threat to health and life posed by the pandemic. It has required resolve and vision to safeguard – and in some cases grow – one of these leaders’ most important assets, their company’s brand.”

# CEO Company Sector Country  BGI
1 Ajay Banga Mastercard Commercial Services United States 77.3
2 Jensen Huang Nvidia Tech United States 77.2
3 Reed Hastings Netflix Media United States 75.8
4 Yong Zhang “Daniel” Retail China 74.1
5 Rajesh Gopinathan TCS IT Services India 74.0
6 Mukesh Ambani Reliance Multiple India 73.9
7 Marc R. Benioff Salesforce Tech United States 73.5
8 Takahiro Hachigo Honda Automobiles Japan 72.6
9 Huateng Ma “Pony” Tencent (QQ) Media China 72.4
10 Jean-Paul Agon L’Oréal Cosmetics & Personal Care France 72.0


Profile of the top 100

Only eight of the top 100 brand guardians are female, due to a continued shortage of female leadership in major corporations across the globe. The female brand guardians in the ranking include six from American companies and two from Chinese companies. This is an improvement from only four in 2020. Susan Patricia Griffith of Progressive is the highest-ranked female brand guardian, at 28th this year. Many of the CEOs in the ranking advocate for diversity and inclusion themselves, and through gradual progress and continued female leadership we hope to see more female brand leaders in the future.

Annie Brown, Associate at Brand Finance, commented: “The #MeToo movement gained traction in 2017, in an overdue tidal wave of recognition for the staggering evidence of sexual harassment faced by women in the workplace. This movement may have begun to make reparations and bring awareness to the issues, but evidently equality is a long way away. Whether it be conscious or unconscious bias that results in a distinct lack of female leadership, work is clearly needed. The 8% representation of women in the Brand Guardianship Index 100 reflects the total sample which also was 8% female. Women are equally capable of being exceptional leaders and it is about time that boardrooms reflect that.”

48 of the top 100 brand guardians are CEOs of US companies, 25 are from East Asia and 17 from Europe. The highest-ranking brand guardian of a non-American company is Alibaba’s Yong Zhang (Daniel Zhang).

The 10 most famous CEOs

In Brand Finance’s original market research among a global sample of equity analysts and journalists, respondents were most familiar with Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Tim Cook, and Elon Musk. These so-called “celebrity CEOs” have gained wide publicity due to the success and wide-spread appeal of the brands they guard over, as well as their willingness to be in the public spotlight. However, fame is not everything.

1 Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
2 Jeff Bezos, Amazon
3 Tim Cook, Apple
4 Elon Musk, Tesla
5 Mukesh Ambani, Reliance
6 Jun Lei, Xiaomi
7 Amin Nasser, Saudi Aramco
8 Reed Hastings, Netflix
9 James R. Quincey, Coca-Cola
10 Jim Farley, Ford


The most reputable CEOs

Joanne Crevoiserat is one of only eight female CEOs that make the top 100 list of brand guardians. She is also the most reputable CEO in the top 100, according to a global sample of equity analysts and journalists. Ms Crevoiserat took the reins of Tapestry (formerly Coach) last year, having previously served as company CFO and interim CEO of Kate Spade. Prior to Tapestry, her experience spanned many big-brand retailers in the US, including Abercrombie & Fitch and Kohls.

1 Joanne Crevoiserat, Tapestry
2 Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates
3 Julie Spellman Sweet, accenture
4 Rajesh Gopinathan, TCS
5 Mukesh Ambani, Reliance
6 Nasser Sulaiman Al Nasser, stc
7 Jun Lei, Xiaomi
8 Volkmar Denner, Bosch
9 Yong Zhang “Daniel”,
10 Punit Renjen, Deloitte


Sector leaders

2020 added new challenges to oil company chief executives facing uncertainty in the market with COVID-19, oil price fluctuation and energy transition pressures all landing on their desks. Strong and inspiring leadership is integral to company reputation and staff morale. H.E. Dr. Sultan Al Jaber of ADNOC is the highest-ranked oil & gas CEO in the BGI in 2021, and places 13th overall. ADNOC’s transformation since 2016 has taken the brand from strength to strength. Under the astute leadership of H.E. Dr. Sultan, ADNOC has evolved into a trusted global player with one brand and one strategic vision at its core. It has attracted some of the world’s leading institutional investors as partners across its business and has raised more than US$64 billion through such transactions since the start of its transformation.

At a time where chief executives of European integrated oil companies are under pressure to evolve to net zero while still delivering a financial return, all three of the oil & gas brand guardians are leaders of national oil companies: ADNOC (13th), Saudi Aramco (23rd), and Petronas (38th).

In a sector that has historically suffered from the reputational impacts of the financial crisis, effective brand management from the top is crucial for banks. Citi’s Mike Corbat is the highest-ranking brand guardian in the banking industry (20th).

The leading global brand guardian in the telecoms industry is Nasser Sulaiman Al Nasser of stc, ranked 41st overall. Mr Nasser became CEO of stc in 2018 and during his tenure, stc has undertaken a profound evolution into a leader for digital transformation. Under Mr Nasser, stc is pioneering 5G development for the Middle East and diversifying the Saudi economy in line with the Saudi Vision 2030.

Following a successful tenure in which stc brand value and strength have consistently grown, Mr Nasser will depart stc in March. Following his departure, stc will continue to benefit from Mr Nasser’s vision and hand in the successful 2020 rebrand.