The 3 Most Exceptional CEOs of 2014

With 2014 nearly in the books, it's time to reflect on the year that's been. So, in the spirit of the year-end, I'll offer up my selections for three CEOs that did an exceptional job of navigating the market this year and whose shareholders should be thankful this holiday season for the benefits to their wallets.

No. 1: Ron Renaud, Idenix Pharmaceuticals (now the CEO of RaNA Therapeutics)I don't think there's anyone who deserves the top honor for 2014 more than Idenix Pharmaceuticals' CEO Ron Renaud.

I admit that I was never a fan of Idenix Pharmaceuticals, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company that was developing a number of nucleotide-based compounds aimed at treating hepatitis C. The indication certainly targets a large population -- the World Health Organization estimates that 180 million people around the globe have hepatitis C -- but Idenix had struggled from the get-go with its pipeline. Between 2010 and 2014, Idenix shareholders suffered through four clinical holds imposed by the Food and Drug Administration and the shelving of three of those drugs.

Yet somehow, some way, Ron Renaud managed to sell his company to Merck in June for $3.85 billion in cash. This was a whopping 239% premium from the prior day's close and an astronomical sum, considering that Idenix hadn't moved any of its pipeline products out of phase 2.

Renaud's initiative to recognize that a superior premium was being offered and that Merck's financial backing was better suited for its product development needs netted Idenix shareholders a boatload of money and may have set Idenix's products up for long-term success.

No. 2: Tim Cook, Apple Apple CEO Tim Cook is well-deserving of praise in 2014, as he reminded Wall Street that Apple is still an innovator and that it will do whatever is necessary to keep the hamster wheel spinning.

Source: Apple.

Introducing a new iPhone each year has become customary for Apple, but it went above and beyond just a new iPhone in 2014. Apple unveiled the duo of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, offering consumers their choice of a bigger-screen smartphone to better compete against Samsung. The initial reaction would suggest people liked the move: Apple sold more than 10 million iPhones in just the first weekend following its launch -- a new record.

Apple also introduced two game-changing platforms this year: Apple Pay and the Apple iWatch. Apple Pay has the potential to become a large-scale mobile payment platform so long as businesses are on board, while the iWatch could be the next big thing that Apple's cult-like consumers have been waiting for.

Finally, Cook proved to be a champion of diversity, adding three women to his board. Cook continues to show Wall Street that Apple's heyday is far from over, and the end result is that Apple added nearly $200 billion in market value in 2014.

No. 3: John Martin, Gilead Sciences The question of whether John Martin, CEO of Gilead Sciences, is a genius has recently been answered. The man is brilliant!

Gilead Sciences management team. Source: Gilead Sciences.

In 2011 Gilead purchased Pharmasset for a staggering $11 billion to get its hands on a clinical-stage drug known as sofosbuvir. At the time, I thought Martin was insane to pay such a staggering sum for a relatively young pipeline. However, you might know this pipeline product better today as Sovaldi, the revolutionary hepatitis C drug that can be administered without the need for interferon in genotype 2 and 3 HCV patients.

Through the first nine months of the year, Sovaldi has delivered $8.55 billion in product sales and is hands-down the fastest-growing drug in history. Harvoni, the company's recently approved cocktail drug comprised of Sovaldi and ledipasvir for genotype 1 HCV patients, may wind up the new record holder there when all is said and done.

But don't overlook the work Martin and his research team put into four-in-one HIV therapy Stribild, either. Atripla, the prior standard of care for slowing the progression of HIV, was a combination of three drugs from three separate companies, requiring Gilead to split its revenue and profits three ways. Stribild is completely in-house and could be critical to helping push Gilead's margins even higher.

Did I leave your pick for CEO of the year off my list? Let me know in the comments section below.

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Sean Williamshas no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen nameTMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen nameTrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle@TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of, and recommends Apple and Gilead Sciences. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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