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The best CEOs of 2014

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

Under Armour ( UA) is Yahoo Finance's company of the year -- and that's due in large part to the guidance of its CEO, Kevin Plank. Over the course of 15-years, Plank was able to lead the company from a one-man operation to a $15.2 billion company.

In today's world, CEOs of major corporations are celebrities. Names like Mark Zuckerberg ( FB) and Tim Cook ( AAPL) grace the covers of both tabloids and business journals (their stories are sometimes even made into blockbuster movies -- written by Aaron Sorkin). It's easy to get sucked into their cult of personality and forget that they have an actual job to do.

When a company is doing well a CEO can be heralded as innovative and brilliant, but when things go wrong they're the first to get the blame, even when they don't deserve it. The top CEOs know that guiding their companies into prosperity is a gentle balancing act, and they walk the tightrope well. Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth joined Yahoo to explain his list of the top 5 CEOs of 2014:

Related: The worst CEOs of 2014

Andrew Wilson, Electronic Arts

Andrew Wilson has perfected the art of the turnaround. Electronic Arts (EA), which produces video games like Madden NFL and The Sims, was voted the "worst company in America" by Consumerist in both 2012 and 2013. But in 2014 the stock is up nearly 106%. Wilson took over as CEO in September of 2013 and "he took the company back to principles like putting your customer first," says Finkelstein. Wilson also set up a model where all play was free and focused on mobile and international markets. "It doesn't sound complicated but they weren't doing it before," comments Finkelstein. "This is basic solid management."

John Martin, Gilead Sciences

Finkelstein writes that Martin, "successfully brought Sovaldi [a drug that fights Hepatitis C, but controversially costs $95,000 per treatment] to market and embraced a pricing strategy that delivered significant value to investors." Gilead (GILD) is up nearly 41% YTD. 

Jack Ma, Alibaba

Jack Ma might have been the happiest man in the world the day his Chinese e-commerce company, Alibaba (BABA), IPO'd. Alibaba's was the largest IPO in history and made more than $25 billion. "This is the first Chinese company that has come to America and is getting on the playing field with Facebook, Google and Amazon," says Finkelstein. The stock is up nearly 20% since it IPO'd in September and has grown its total revenue by 53.7% to $2.74 billion in 2014. Ma has also managed to grow mobile revenue by more than 1,000%, according to Finkelstein. "What I've always liked about the guy is that he has one of those rags-to-riches stories... I think he's really authentic," he says. 

Kevin Plank, Under Armour 

15 years ago Under Armour (UA) was just a company with one man shilling one shirt. Today it's a genuine threat to sports apparel companies like Nike (NKE), Adidas (ADS) and Reebok. The stock saw an 88% gain last year and another 62.5% gain YTD in 2014. Plank has led his company through 18-straight quarters of over-20% growth. That's partially why Under Armour is Yahoo Finance's company of the year. To read more about Under Armour and Kevin Plank, click here

Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX

Elon Musk is nothing if not innovative and his company SpaceX, once thought of as a pie-in-the-sky idea, has won major government contracts this year and operated numerous successful trips to space. Tesla (TSLA), a company that was up 344% in 2013 managed to stay in the green -- rising by another 45%. "Tesla has a business model that's unbeatable," says Finkelstein. "They're growing -- last year was even better than this year... when the history books are written [Musk is] on line to be one of the small number of people that we're going to look back on and say 'this guy really changed the world.'"

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