4 CEOs Who Defy the Crazy Corporate Mindset

Alyce Lomax

Wall Street has a funny view of the world: Its short-term mind-set sets the stage for major dysfunction in corporate America. Most of us average joes wouldn't tolerate the level of crazy behavior displayed in corporate America. In fact, most of us would consider it downright loony.

I recently examined some unusual CEO behavior, and compared it to some serious mental disorders. Some in the corporate world -- those indoctrinated to that short-term profit, "me-only" mind-set -- don't find that behavior all that weird. They're perfectly willing to look the other way, accepting that wild parties on the company's dime or $1,400 wastebaskets are pretty "normal" things to desire, and do everything in one's power to attain.

There are, however, CEOs who defy the power-hungry stereotype. Their behavior is the kind that makes Wall Street really uncomfortable.

Leaders Who, Thankfully, Don't Exhibit "Normal" Behavior

The following CEOs have exhibited actions that truly are exceptional -- the "abnormal" anomalies, if you will. These are leaders who can comprehend the pain of pink slips and the stress of being uninsured. They exhibit an important feature that too many corporate CEOs seem to lack: empathy.

Costco's employee-centric chief: Costco (COST) CEO Jim Sinegal champions major benefits like health care for his company's employees, despite Wall Street's pressures to juice up short-term profit by slashing such "costs." Here's a leader who believes positive worker treatment will "build a company that's going to be here 50 and 60 years from now." Novel, eh? Not only that, he answers his own phone.

The coffee king who shells out for benefits: Starbucks (SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz is another stickler for health-care benefits. Starbucks' historical tendency to shell out more money for employee health care than for actual coffee is a long-standing fascinating factoid. In addition, Schultz resisted pressure from one shareholder who thought Starbucks' financial struggles years back would be the perfect time to cut those hideous health-care expenses. (Quick, for the love of all that's holy on Wall Street, somebody stage an intervention!) The shareholder eventually reduced his position in the do-good company.

Whole Foods
Whole Foods

The grocer who shredded his own paycheck: In 2007, Whole Foods Market (WFM) CEO John Mackey made one heck of an announcement. He said, "The tremendous success of Whole Foods Market has provided me with far more money than I ever dreamed I'd have and far more than is necessary for either my financial security or personal happiness.... I am now 53 years old and I have reached a place in my life where I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself and to better answer the call to service that I feel so clearly in my own heart." He slashed his base salary to $1.

Lincoln's layoff "lunacy": Cleveland, Ohio-based industrial manufacturing company Lincoln Electric (LECO) has had a "no layoff" policy since 1948. That's right, even during the recent economically challenged, layoff-centric years as huge companies mercilessly hacked at their workforces, CEO John Stropki stood by his word. Nuts, right?

Lincoln Electric
Lincoln Electric

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Giving Credit Where It's Truly Due

Wall Street's drive for short-term profits too often gives CEOs strong incentives to do exactly the wrong thing for their companies' long-term stability, and that's truly sad.

True long-term investors must start giving more credit to those who seem to try to do the right thing, even while withstanding incredible pressure to do otherwise. CEOs like these represent a far better financial future for all of us.

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Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks, Whole Foods Market, and Costco Wholesale. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Costco Wholesale, Starbucks, and Whole Foods Market.

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