SJR Launches CEO Leaderboard: Ranking Impact of COVID-19 on FTSE CEOs’ Reputations

Powered by ENODO Global, the Leaderboard measures the shift in reputation of each CEO in the FTSE 100, revealing empathy not power is the new language of success for the top performers

LONDON--()--In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the list of FTSE 100 CEOs ranked by reputation looks very different to the one ranked by their firms’ market capitalisation, according to the CEO Leaderboard, launched today by SJR, a WPP digital communications consultancy in London.

According to the report, which analysed more than 2.3 million datapoints generated by online conversations about FTSE 100 CEOs from January to May 2020, the CEOs perceived as being most successful in a post-pandemic world are no longer those who focus on just on profit, but those who are seen as being the most supportive of their people, customers and communities. These perception shifts had as much to do with the style of communication from the CEOs as it did with their content.

Post-pandemic, have expectations of CEOs changed forever?

Above all, the report reveals a clear change in how commentators, employees and the public evaluate corporate leadership post-pandemic, dismissing the “old” ways of corporate communication that are mostly seen as too impersonal and remote for what has been a very human crisis.

For example, some of the CEOs at the top of the Leaderboard positively increased their reputation and that of their companies by as much as 20-55 per cent. The common thread amongst the biggest movers was a pivot in their storytelling to a more open, frequent and personal style of communication, often direct to key stakeholder groups via first-person, low-tech methods on social media and owned digital channels.

FTSE 100 CEO Reputation Leaderboard: The Top 10

Many hard-earned CEO reputations held up during the height of the pandemic in the UK (1 March - 20 May 2020), while others were dragged down by sector- or company-specific situations. Some reputations were helped by relatively solid business performance during the crisis – while others managed to maintain good reputations despite seeing their businesses hit hard.

3i’s Simon Borrows claimed the No. 1 spot, with AstraZeneca’s Pascal Soriot and George Weston of AB Foods ranking No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. The top 10 CEOs are as follows:

  1. Simon Borrows, 3i
  2. Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca
  3. George Weston, AB Foods
  4. Alan Jope, Unilever
  5. Philip Jansen, BT Group
  6. Donal Murphy, DCC
  7. Craig Hayman, Aveva Group
  8. Peter Cowgill, JD Sports
  9. John Pettigrew, National Grid
  10. Jes Staley, Barclays

FTSE 100 CEO Reputation Leaderboard: The Top 10 Crisis Navigators

The research includes a list of the top CEOs whose reputation increased the most during the period of peak COVID. These “navigators” understood the complexity of leading a business through the crisis and improving perceptions at the same time.

The research found that Jess Staley, CEO Barclays (+20), Nigel Wilson, CEO Legal & General (+15) and Andy Briggs, Phoenix Group Holdings (+14), Ben van Beurden, Royal Dutch Shell (+ 10) experienced the most marked positive change during the period measured. The top ten navigators include:


Increase in



1. Jes Staley, Barclays


6. Miles Roberts, DS Smith


2. Nigel Wilson, Legal & General


7. Anthony Smurfit, Smurfit Kappa Group


3. Andy Briggs, Phoenix Group Holdings


8. Brian Cassin, Experian


4. Ben van Beurden, Royal Dutch Shell


9. Bernard Looney, BP


5. Chris Grigg, British Land Company


10. Nick Read, Vodafone, Group 


CEOs whose reputation score increased the most during the period of peak COVID-19 crisis period (1 Mar – 20 May, 2020) versus their score from the previous measured period (1 Jan – 29 Feb). Increase in reputation score rank based on rounding to second decimal place. See Methodology for details of measurement and scoring.

The CEO Leaderboard research identified four key areas common to all the top performing CEOs - especially those who saw their reputations improve most through the crisis:


10/10 of the navigators dialled up their focus on serving the communities around them who were most in need. This included:

  • Charitable giving across existing and new bespoke programmes
  • Reprioritising their organisations to help mitigate the impact of the crisis on their stakeholders
  • Proactively vocalising and taking action support the communities and people who give them a ‘licence to operate’


9/10 of the top navigators brought an empathetic mindset to their leadership approach. These leaders:

  • Took action early on in the crisis to protect the individuals and families who were being most directly impacted
  • Were quick to communicate bold policies with stakeholders - rapidly and regularly and often ahead of official government guidance
  • Engaged in the widespread usage of social media channels to take the message directly to people


9/10 of the top performers took actions that reaffirmed their commitment to a clear company mission.

  • Despite COVID, they did not veer away from their vision, continuing to drive storytelling in support of advocacy
  • Some set and communicated ambitious new social impact goals, and avoided a one-story profile across their corporate home page and social channels


10/10 had existing active “owned” corporate communications channels in place and could quickly get their messages directly to people - unfiltered. These leaders:

  • Regularly posted content on active corporate Twitter and LinkedIn accounts
  • Brought a deeper dimension to company news through storytelling
  • Featured current, relevant, editorial-style content on the front page of their corporate websites
  • Set up genuine dialogue with employees, customers and partners directly.

Empathy not power has become the new language of success for those FTSE CEOs who improved their reputation during the pandemic,” said Selena Cameron, President SJR, EMEA. “These leaders communicated across multiple platforms, regularly, with an authentic voice and personal views. The top performers pivoted away from traditional communication strategies, fundamentally changing the way they shared information with employees, customers and other stakeholders. This transparent 'new style' successfully connected these CEOs directly with their audiences.”

In today’s communication environment, public perception of a company’s brand and its leadership is a leading indicator of performance, and value and has a direct impact on a company’s stock price,” stated James R. Sisco, CEO, ENODO Global. “Our CEO Leaderboard enables companies to accurately measure the performance of their communication plans and engagement strategies in real time, delivering a competitive advantage.”


SJR is a collective of strategists and digital storytellers developing corporate communications and creative content for today’s leading brands. Specializing in narrative, insights, content creation and audience development, we create experiences worth your time. SJR was founded with this simple objective in mind: how to connect brands and companies with the right audience and build trust. SJR is a WPP company, with offices around the world. SJR is the parent company of Truffle Pig.

# SJR @GroupSJR


ENODO Global is a social risk advisory firm that combines advanced data analytics, social media exploitation and a population-centric methodology to deliver real-time awareness and predictive analysis that enables commercial and government clients to manage their risk exposure, increase profitability and safeguard their brand.



ENODO Global’s proprietary methodology and customized Python written data analytics platform collect and synthesize all publicly available data anywhere digitally available. Thus, the dataset is more robust and includes online local, national and international news outlets, RSS feeds, 20+ social media sites and additional open-source information.

The data set was created to assess the online conversation around the FTSE 100 CEOs between January 1 and 20 May,2020. The data set included a total of 2.3 million data points

  • 702,194 LinkedIn posts
  • 620,912 News sites
  • 518,302 Tweets
  • 269,582 Facebook posts
  • 194,277 RSS Feeds
  • 94,109 Blogs
  • 21,637 Instagram posts
  • 11,574 YouTube comments

The Leaderboard accounts for the positive, neutral and negative sentiment that occurs around the CEOs’ communications and what is written and posted about the CEO. The scores or rankings range from 0 to 100, with higher scores representing higher positive and neutral sentiment.

Two rankings were created. An initial baseline assessment spanned from January 1 to February 29, 2020, before COVID-19 became a constant presence in the daily news cycle. The second period included data from March 1 to May 20, 2020, assessing the performance of each CEO during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the top-ranking CEOs, the report identifies the leaders whose positions most increased or decreased due to their COVID-19 responses.


Danielle Leach
+44 (0) 7904 008128

Release Summary

SJR Launches CEO Leaderboard: Ranking Impact of COVID-19 on FTSE CEOs’ Reputations


Danielle Leach
+44 (0) 7904 008128