Top Turnaround CEOs Under 40

Wait, what? Burger King's CEO, Daniel Schwartz, is just 33 years old? We uncover what other companies have strapping young CEOs at the helm.

Experience isn’t everything. At least, it shouldn’t be. Over the past few years, more young CEOs with new approaches to business strategy and creative deals are shaking up the business world. This trend goes beyond young entrepreneurs starting their own companies. Several of the biggest corporations in the world have brought in young CEOs to lead dramatic turnarounds. Across the board, the average age of an incoming CEO was 53 in 2013, but these five youngsters are breaking the rules by being younger than 40. Take a look at what they’ve achieved:

1. Daniel Schwartz

  • Age: 33
  • Title: CEO, Burger King

Schwartz had no experience with fast food when he started working at Burger King nearly four years ago, but had spent many years in the financial sector. He brings with him a core of loyal managers in his age group.

Before: Burger King had flat sales and was losing market share to mid-market fast food restaurants like Chipotle. In 2010, Burger King was purchased in a leveraged buyout by 3G Capital, and no one knew what would become of the chain.

After: Schwartz is instilling an “ownership mentality” among employees and negotiating agreements for new stores in markets like Brazil, India and China. Valuation is up and the company stock has added 15 percent. The acquisition of Tim Hortons coffee shops is a strong indication of the company’s commitment to growth.

2. Marissa Mayer

  • Age: 38
  • Title: CEO, Yahoo!

While Mayer’s extensive coverage in the media tends to focus on the fact that she’s female, her youth flies under the radar. She was Google’s 20th employee and grew up with the search giant. She shook up the business culture by declaring an end to remote work. Then she introduced crowd sourcing into her strategy by allowing employees to vote on what the company’s biggest problems were.

Before: Two yrs ago, before Mayer, Yahoo was showing its age, and talent was leaving in droves. Yahoo had bet big on banner ads, and the ad revenue from that source was drying up.

After: Mayer made Yahoo mobile-friendly, rebuilt Flickr and went on an M&A spree, spending over $1 billion for Tumblr alone. Company stock is up 86 percent, and Yahoo is starting to trend “cool” again. Time spent on Yahoo has jumped 36 percent. They’re now also rumoured to be investing $20 million in Snapchat.

3. Andrew Wilson

  • Age: 39
  • Title: CEO, Electronic Arts

Wilson was an internal choice for CEO. He previously ran direct-to-consumer divisions for EA in Asia and Europe. He brings experience in surfing and jujitsu that no one else in the boardroom can match.

Before: After problems with the launches of SimCity and Battlefield 4, EA was voted the Worst Company in America by consumers, beating even Bank of America. People are serious about their games.

After: Wilson has been on the job for only one year, but has already turned EA into a new company with a new quality-first, player-first mentality. Game demos are released earlier, and final games aren’t released at all until they’re perfect. 2014 was the first year in a decade with no game releases at all. Shares surged 21 percent, virtually overnight, after Wilson was appointed.

4. John Elkann

  • Age: 37
  • Title: CEO, Exor – parent company of Fiat

Elkann was hand-picked for the board at Fiat when he was 21. He speaks four languages fluently after bouncing around Europe, Brazil and the US for most of his life and finished his education with a degree in management engineering in Italy.

Before: Fiat was crashing and burning. Its financials were deteriorating rapidly and the car quality was so poor that the company’s owners wouldn’t even drive one.

After: In the three years he has been CEO, Elkan stabilized Fiat and oversaw the merger with Chrysler. Giuseppe Berta, a professor at Bocconi University, pointed out that Elkann’s biggest strength as CEO is that he is “not conditioned by the past and is moving the company into a more global direction.”

5. Tue Mantoni (pronounced Too-eh)

  • Age: 39
  • Title: former CEO, Triumph Motorcycles

Before his current gig as CEO of Bang & Olufson, Tue Mantoni was CEO of British motorcycle manufacturer, Triumph.

Before: Prior to Mantoni’s arrival, the 100-year-old company was in financial strife; its technology was behind the competition, stores were not up-to-date, and its factory had burned down. Triumph needed someone who could get things back on track quickly.

After: Mantoni helped develop Triumph as a niche brand with a reputation of high quality engineering. Triumph’s turnover has since tripled.

Next Gen

While others in their age range are entering management mentoring programs, or going back to night school for an MBA, these young professionals are reshaping their respective industries. If there’s one lesson we can take away from these five young leaders, it’s that what’s worked in the past no longer applies. This is the new generation, and they have something to say. Fortunately, someone is listening.

Debbie Stephenson

Debbie Stephenson is a former Content Marketing Manager at Firmex.

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