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10 CEOs Whose Names You Don't Know...But Should


The companies they represent are widely recognized and may even be part of your everyday life, so why are these chief executives so rarely in the news?

There are the CEOs you know -- the ones whose faces show up on book jackets, on the covers of business magazines, or every time you click past a cable news network. Then there are these 10, who might be less recognizable than the logos on their business cards. They're no less important (one person here made Time's "Most Influential People in the World" list), but they're still the ones who could glue on fake mustaches and show up on Undercover Boss without raising any suspicions. Until now.
Steve Ells, Co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill
The mission statement for Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) is "Food With Integrity," a commitment that means that those made-to-order burritos are filled with sustainably farmed meats and vegetables that are free of antibiotics and hormones. (The company also recently made a commitment to remove genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, from its food.)

Photograph of Steve Ells by Gina LeVay.

Forty percent of the beans are organic, and the company buys 10 million pounds of vegetables from local farms every year, according to the company. "It tastes better, plus there's a good story behind it," Ells said in Esquire. That kind of commitment is why the magazine named Ells as "The Most Inspiring CEO in America." It doesn't hurt that the classically trained chef knows how to serve up a quality burrito, too. 
Maria das Graças Silva Foster, CEO of Petrobras
Foster is familiar with firsts. She's the first woman to run a major oil and gas company -- in this case, Petrobras (NYSE:PBR), Brazil's largest company -- and she was nominated for this position by Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president. "I know that I'm a reference point for women across the world," Foster told The Independent. "This increases my responsibility, and I don't want to disappoint people [either at] home or abroad."

Nothing about Foster has been disappointing. She joined Petrobras as a chemical engineer more than 30 years ago and has steadily made her way toward the corner office, appearing on Time magazine's "Most Influential People in the World" list along the way. Petrobras is the highest-ranking woman-led company on the Fortune Global 500; its annual revenues of $144 billion put it at No. 25 on that list. Interestingly, in Brazil, 12% of CEOS are female, compared with 3% in the United States.

Michael Fries, CEO of Liberty Global
After the dot-com bubble burst in 1999-2000, Michael Fries made the difficult decision to stick with UnitedGlobalCom, Inc. Several years earlier, Fries had abandoned a promising career at Paine Webber to become the fifth employee hired by the cable and telephone provider; he decided that he would "[risk] what little he had left" to save the Denver-based company. In 2005, UnitedGlobalCom merged with Liberty Media International to form Liberty Global (NASDAQ:LBTYB), and Fries was named CEO. After the June 2013 acquisition of Virgin Media (NASDAQ:VMED) for the low, low price of $16 billion, Liberty Global became the world's largest international cable operator, with 24.5 million customers in 14 countries.

Mark Frissora, CEO of Hertz Global Holdings
Saying that the CEO of Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:HTZ) "tries harder" probably raises some copyright issues, but that seems to be Frissora's approach to running the rental-car company. Since becoming CEO in 2006, Frissora has positioned the brand ahead of Enterprise, Budget, and, yes, eternal runner-up Avis (NASDAQ:CAR). In 2012, Hertz announced a plan to acquire then No. 4 rental-car brand Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group for $2.3 billion; the merger won final approval from the FTC in July 2013.

Hertz now has more than 11,500 locations in 145 countries, and Frissora regularly checks in at many of those ubiquitous airport counters and at the company's call centers. "It's critical that leaders spend a lot of time where the work actually gets done," he said. "That they get into the guts of the business and see what happens there."

Sheri McCoy, CEO of Avon
McCoy was initially hired as a chemical engineer by Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), but when she left the company 30 years later, she held the title of vice chairman. In April 2012, McCoy was named the CEO of Avon Products (NYSE:AVP), tasked with giving the struggling beauty company a much-needed makeover. It hasn't been easy so far for McCoy, who has been a perennial entry on Fortune's list of the 50 most powerful women in business.

"Looking back at 2013, we made progress addressing tough legacy issues, identifying and beginning to resolve operational challenges and rebuilding our management team," McCoy said in a recent company statement. "While much work remains to be done, we continue to make progress toward building a better, simpler, and more stable business."

Sanjay Mehrotra, CEO of SanDisk
It's hard to believe that there's a tech CEO whose name isn't constantly in the press or thrown around on various websites, but somehow Mehrotra has been consistently overlooked. The cofounder and CEO of SanDisk Corporation (NASDAQ:SNDK) holds more than 70 patents, and he credits his background as an inventor and electrical engineer with helping him run the flash-memory company.

"It's helped me a great deal in understanding the capabilities of our technology and in assessing the complexities of the challenges ahead," he told Forbes. "That makes a big difference in determining strategic plans and in managing execution." In the first quarter of 2014, SanDisk revenues were $1.51 billion, a 13% increase over the first quarter of 2012.

Laurent Potdevin, CEO of Lululemon Athletica
Chip Wilson, the founder of upscale yoga-pant purveyors Lululemon Athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) spent most of 2013 proving that he was flexible enough to put both feet in his mouth at the same time. The always-controversial Canadian stepped down after making ill-advised comments about women's bodies; then-CEO Christine Day said her final "namaste" before making her way to the door, too.

Enter Potdevin, the former president of Toms Shoes. In his first earnings report, Potdevin conceded that 2014 would be "an investment year, with an emphasis on strengthening our foundation, reigniting our product engine, and accelerating sustainable and controlled global expansion." The company is currently rolling out a more lifestyle-oriented product line -- called "&Go" -- and has opened its first European store in London.

Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelez International
On September 30, 2012, Rosenfeld was the CEO of Kraft. A day later, she was CEO of the newly formed Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ) after making the jaw-dropping decision to split the company in half. Rosenfeld separated Kraft into Mondelez, a global snacks company, and Kraft Foods Group (NASDAQ:KRFT), headed by CEO Tony Vernon and focused on groceries found on North American shelves.

"I will say, the act of separating 95,000 trademarks has been quite an undertaking," Rosenfeld said the day after the split. Her daring move has resulted in $25 billion to $30 billion in shareholder value. In 2013, Rosenfeld was ranked No. 6 on Fortune's "50 Most Powerful Women in Business" list.

James D. White, CEO of Jamba Juice
When White became the CEO of Jamba Juice (NASDAQ:JMBA) in December 2008, the company was struggling, reeling from a $12.4 million net loss in the third quarter of that year. White, who had previously helped turn around Gillette (NYSE:PG) and Safeway (NYSE:SWY), didn't panic. Instead, he "led Jamba Juice through eight consecutive quarter growths ... as the third quarter of 2013, for instance, jumped 51% over Q3 of 2012." White brought wraps, oatmeal, and other healthy (and chewable) food options to Jamba's menu of smoothies and shakes and developed licensing opportunities for the brand.

The company is rolling out a new juicing platform for fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable options. There are currently more than 850 Jamba Juice locations, including 48 international stores and 500 franchise-operated stores; four are owned by tennis superstar Venus Williams.

Strauss Zelnick, CEO of Take-Two Interactive Software
Even if you don't immediately recognize Zelnick's name, you probably have one of Take-Two Interactive Software's (NASDAQ:TTWO) games stacked beside your Xbox. The New York-based video game developer and distributor is responsible for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, as well as other insanely popular titles such as NBA 2K14 and WWE 2K14. Grand Theft Auto V made more than $1 billion within three days of its September 17, 2013, release date and has shipped 32.5 million copies to retailers, which would make it the sixth best-selling game of all time.

The record-setting success of GTA V  led to Take-Two's profits "[surging] eightfold" last year, with revenue making a fourfold jump to $1.86 billion. Zelnick, who has been with Take-Two since 2007, is also one of the few CEOS to snag the cover of Men's Fitness magazine, proving that he regularly lifts something heavier than a video game controller.

Jelisa Castrodale is a freelance writer who covers sports, technology, and pop culture. She is probably drinking a Diet Coke right now. Follow her on Twitter: @gordonshumway.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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