Leadership   //   October 24, 2023

Meet the top and bottom CEOs, as rated by employees

We read headlines all the time about CEOs’ latest decisions around layoffs, the return to office, and the knock-on effects on compensation and stock prices. But what about how those choices reverberate internally?

Anonymous workplace community Blind surveyed over 13,000 verified professionals in the U.S. to calculate the approval rating of 103 CEOs based on employee feedback. The average approval rating for a CEO in the inaugural index was just 32%. The professional social network asked the same question as Gallup’s popular U.S. presidential approval rating measure: “Do you approve or disapprove of the way your CEO is handling their job?”

We’ve selected five of the top 10 CEOs with the highest approval ratings, and five of the bottom 10 with the lowest, and added some wider context on what could have impacted their score. (Spoiler: largely, scores are swayed by stocks and layoffs.)

“When things are going well, everybody feels good,” said Marc Cenedella, CEO at Ladders, a career site for jobs that pay $100,000 or more annually. “Stock prices go up, the board is happy, management is happy, and that just trickles all the way down to frontline workers and they think the CEO is doing a great job because everyone feels good. And in the opposite case, that also gets reflected through the entire organization and people feel like well we’re not doing a good job, so it must be the CEO who is responsible for it.”

Bottom CEOs

John Stankey, AT&T

In tenth place among the bottom 10 CEOs, Stankey has a 6% approval rating from his employees on Blind. 

Why: AT&T’s RTO mandate has made waves, and not for good reasons. The company has required 60,000 managers to return to in-person work at nine approved locations. Around 9,000 workers faced the choice of having to either relocate or quit, and the majority of affected staffers were ineligible for relocation stipends. Some people have even suggested that it was a disguised layoff tactic, including employees themselves. An AT&T employee told Bloomberg in a June report that the telecommunications company’s new RTO mandate was “a layoff wolf” in sheep’s clothing. 

Sarah Friar, Nextdoor

Friar places in the 8th spot with an approval rating of 4%.

Why: Friar has presided over an 80% decline in the social media company’s share price since its 2021 IPO. Stocks played a large role in whether or not employees approved of the CEO. Nextdoor’s shares have continued to decrease recently. Around the same time that the Blind survey took place, Nextdoor Holdings dropped 23%, taking one-year losses to 37%. 

Linda Yaccarino, X

Although her CEO title has only been in place since June, Yaccarino received a 4% approval rating from employees who reported on Blind. That put her in the seventh spot, in the bottom 10 CEOs. 

Why: Yaccarino’s appointment came after months of controversial decisions from the company’s owner Elon Musk. Musk laid off the majority of Twitter’s staff and alienated advertisers with new policies. Yaccarino’s rating came before her recent Code Conference interview, during which she made a series of blunders that created a lot of chatter online. One such blunder was when Yaccarino inadvertently revealed that she did not have the X app on her phone’s home screen as she spoke of the platform’s “ferociously loyal” user base. She also provided inconsistent figures when asked about the number of users on the platform. 

Notably, 16% of Yaccarino’s employees had no opinion on her job handling, possibly because she only took over as CEO in June. For what it’s worth, Tesla CEO and X owner Elon Musk received a 38% approval rating in the survey.

Evan Spiegel, Snap

With just a 3% approval rating, Spiegel places in the sixth spot for bottom CEOs.

Why: Snap’s annual shareholder meeting this summer lasted less than three minutes. Spiegel holds the majority of shareholder voting power, so he controls all voting matters. Because of that, shareholders are totally powerless. These meetings are meant to allow shareholders to have a say in how the company runs, but that isn’t an option. Even if shareholder proposals don’t pass, the meetings allow investors to have their voices heard. Snap had no investor proposals, and it did not take questions from shareholders, saying it didn’t receive any questions in advance. Meta, Google and Pinterest all have similar voting structures, which elevate the voting power of founders and executives. 

Erik Nordstrom, Nordstrom

Nordstrom received a 0% approval rating, putting him in the first spot for bottom CEOs.

Why: Nordstrom delivered pink slips to about 200 tech workers in Nordstrom’s corporate offices in April 2023 and thousands of wage-workers in San Francisco and Canada as the luxury department store shut some of its retail stores earlier this year.

In a recent thread on Blind, verified professionals said that bonuses have also not happened in the last two years and it’s shaping up to be the same situation this year. 

Top CEOs

Jensen Huang, NVIDIA

Huang has a 96% approval rating, significantly above the rest of the top CEOs, putting him in the spot for top CEO according to employees reporting on Blind. Nearly every verified NVIDIA professional on Blind approved of his work as CEO. The tech company claims it is a leader in artificial intelligence computing. 

Why: “Company stock performance may have benefited some chief executives’ approval scores,” wrote Rick Chen, director of PR at Blind, in the ratings index. For example, NVIDIA shares now trade more than three times higher (+208%) than they did at the beginning of the year under Huang’s leadership, benefiting from increased demand for its hardware, especially graphics processing units, as interest in AI surges. 

Stock-based compensation can make up half or more of a tech professional’s total compensation.

“He saw this AI mania coming 10+ years ago,” a verified NVIDIA professional on Blind said of CEO Jensen Huang in a discussion about whether many NVIDIA employees now earn $1 million a year or more in total compensation. “I trust him completely.”

Doug McMillon, Walmart

In spot two for top CEO is McMillon, who has an 88% approval rating.

Why: While other popular CEOs may have gained their high approval ratings because stocks are up, McMillion has managed to get a high score a different way.

“Walmart stock has been kind of sideways for the last three years,” said Cenedella. “But Doug McMillion gets a terrific approval rating. That is something harder to do, to have a bad situation and then be able to have your team still support you. That shows real special skill.”

Professionals on Blind boast about Walmart’s work-life balance, especially when the pay offered is above average. According to the employee reviews site Comparably, 74% of Walmart employees work eight hours or less and only 6% work more than 12 hours. The company offers benefits like expanded mental health benefits that includes free therapy and coaching sessions, extra paid time off, 16 weeks of maternity leave and six weeks of parental leave, and tuition reimbursement. 

Tim Cook, Apple

Cook is in fourth place for top CEOs with an 83% approval rating. 

Why: The 62-year-old Cook has been CEO at Apple since 2011, chosen just weeks before the death of Apple founder and creator Steve Jobs. A close friend of Jobs, Cook had vowed to carry on the former leader’s legacy and his vision for the Apple brand following his death.

CEOs from each of the five companies commonly referred to as “Big Tech” – Amazon, Apple, Meta, Google (Alphabet), and Microsoft – were all part of the analysis. Unfortunately, Cook’s four counterparts did not fare as well in the survey, all dipping way below 50% with the exception of Meta founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Lisa Su, AMD

Su received a 79% approval rating, putting her in the 8th spot. 

Why: NVIDIA might be in the top spot for approval right now, but Su is setting out to challenge that by coming after its 85% market dominance in AI processors. Su has expressed her optimism about AMD’s AI market potential, expressing that with strong software and AI investments, AMD can lead in inference solutions. The company will acquire AI startup Nod.ai to enhance its software capabilities in the competition with NVIDIA. Su has also recently stepped down from Cisco’s board of directors. 

Besides Yaccarino, only three other female CEOs made it into the technology category; Oracle’s Safra Katz at 38% employee approval, Aicha Evans of Amazon’s robo-taxi subsidiary Zoox with 47%, and Lisa Su with her robust approval rating.

Ryan McInerney, Visa

In the 9th spot, McInerney also has a 79% approval rating.

Why: McInerney became CEO of Visa in February 2023, but has already made an impression on employees. He recently told the audience at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia and Tech Conference in San Francisco that he’s seeing consumer spending find “stability, resiliency in the U.S. and around the world.” Visa has seen improvements in both the travel and e-commerce sectors, McInerney said, on top of the fact that consumers with debit cards are spending more each time they spend. When the company is doing well, so are the people that work for it.

Visa posted total U.S. payments volume of $1.57 trillion in its third quarter of fiscal 2023 which ended Jun. 30, up 5.6% from the same period last year.