business leaders
June 26, 2024, 4:01 a.m.
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Top 20 Most Influential Business Leaders Changing the World

Just like empires, companies rise and fall with time. However, some manage to endure for ages, often thanks to exceptional leadership. Great leaders have the ability to motivate employees, help others see and believe in a vision, and drive innovation within their companies. Having a great leader at the helm is something that all investors, consumers, and employees desire. Here is a list of the 20 most influential business leaders who are currently changing the world.

What Is an Industry Leader?

An industry leader is a reputable professional with high levels of expertise in a specific field. These individuals are innovative, driven, strategic, and able to adapt to changing trends in their industry. When new technologies or shifts in demand arise, they respond appropriately and offer valuable solutions.

On an organizational level, business leaders understand how to meet both company and consumer needs. They research consumer behavior and competitors, providing strategic solutions that address both buyer and organizational demands. Their ultimate goal is to transform their companies for the better.

Industry leaders pave the way for company success with new ideas and unique approaches. They often hold key positions such as:

•    CEO
•    Entrepreneur
•    Company founder

What Are the Qualities of a Business Leader?

Here are some of the most common qualities demonstrated by leaders in any industry:

Informative and Innovative    

Industry leaders stay at the forefront of their profession by constantly researching trends, examining the latest developments, and dedicating time to devising beneficial solutions for their organizations.

Goal-Oriented

Professional leaders understand their company’s objectives, both large and small. They have a detailed vision of what it takes to achieve attainable goals, helping to set the company up for long-term success.

Effective Communicators

Industry professionals know how to communicate effectively with board members, employees, and stakeholders to address opportunities and organizational challenges. They clearly lay out their goals and solutions and engage in active listening to gain valuable feedback.

Risk-Takers

Every industry needs leaders willing to embrace risk and step into the unknown. Industry leaders understand that company success often depends on striving toward both short-term and long-term goals. These daring leaders are not afraid to voice their opinions and put their ideas into action, even when facing potential failure. These qualities set famous business leaders apart.

20 Business Leaders Who Changed the World

1. Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the CEO of Apple, the most valuable company in the world. He took over after the company’s founder, Steve Jobs, passed away in 2011. Cook has successfully navigated Apple through this transition, developing new product lines and expanding Apple’s retail presence in China. Under his leadership, Apple has continued to innovate with products like the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, solidifying its status as a leader in technology.

2. Mary Barra

Mary Barra is the chairman and CEO of General Motors Company. She launched the Chevrolet Bolt EV, a key competitor in the electric automobile market, with a battery that outlasts Tesla’s. In 2016, she was elected to the board of Disney. Barra’s tenure at GM is marked by her commitment to innovation, leading the company toward an all-electric future while focusing on sustainability and safety.

3. Reed Hastings

Reed Hastings is the co-founder and CEO of Netflix. Initially starting as a DVD rental service with no late fees, Netflix transitioned into online streaming, revolutionizing digital entertainment. Hastings uses his influence to promote educational reform through the California State Board of Education and charter schools. His visionary approach has changed how we consume media, pushing Netflix to create original content and expand globally.

4. Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is the founder of Amazon, which began as an online bookstore and has grown into the world’s largest online retailer. From 2017 to 2021, Bezos was the wealthiest person in the world. He has since stepped down as CEO and moved to an executive chairman position. Bezos’s relentless focus on customer service and innovation has transformed retail, and his ventures into space exploration with Blue Origin highlight his ambition to push technological boundaries.

5. Elon Musk

Elon Musk, born in South Africa, is known for founding PayPal and SpaceX and his involvement with Tesla Motors. His innovative vision has pushed the boundaries of technology, increasing exposure to solar power, high-speed transportation, and artificial intelligence. Musk’s ventures, including The Boring Company and Neuralink, aim to address significant challenges such as traffic congestion and brain-machine interfaces, showcasing his commitment to futuristic solutions.

6. Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg served as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook from 2008 to 2022. She founded the nonprofit Lean In, named after her best-selling book. Sandberg has been a powerful advocate for women in business, successfully transitioning from government work to the tech industry. Her efforts to champion gender equality and leadership have inspired many and continue to influence corporate cultures worldwide.

7. Bob Iger

Bob Iger is the Executive Chairman and former CEO of the Disney Corporation. His leadership has led to the acquisitions of major companies like Marvel, Pixar, and Lucas Films, and the expansion of Disney’s theme parks into Shanghai and Hong Kong. Iger’s vision for Disney has created a global entertainment powerhouse, and his ability to integrate and grow acquired brands has set a new standard in the industry.

8. Bill Gates

Bill Gates founded Microsoft, the world’s largest PC software company. He has transitioned into philanthropic ventures through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, working to provide clean water and sanitation to third-world countries. Gates has pledged to leave the vast majority of his wealth to charity. His foundation’s work in health, education, and poverty alleviation has had a profound impact on global development.

9. Huateng “Pony” Ma

Also known as Pony Ma, he is the founder and president of Tencent, one of the largest internet companies in China. Ma has been named to Time’s most-influential-people list twice and is known for his secretive lifestyle but substantial power both domestically and internationally. Under his leadership, Tencent has expanded its influence in gaming, social media, and fintech, becoming a dominant force in China’s digital economy.

10. Jack Ma

Jack Ma, the first entrepreneur from mainland China to appear on the cover of Forbes magazine, is the founder of Alibaba Group. After overcoming multiple rejections from universities and jobs, Ma created a website about China and Chinese products, leading to the creation of Alibaba, which holds the record for the largest IPO in history. Ma’s entrepreneurial journey and commitment to empowering small businesses have made him a symbol of innovation and resilience.

11. Jan Koum

Jan Koum, born in Kyiv, Ukraine, moved to the U.S. at 16 and discovered his passion for programming. He founded WhatsApp, which quickly became one of the fastest-downloaded apps globally. Koum sold WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for approximately $19.3 billion. His story from humble beginnings to tech success illustrates the transformative power of technology and the importance of persistence.

12. Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi was the Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo from 2006 to 2019. She created the Performance with Purpose initiative, focusing on creating successful businesses by addressing the world’s needs. Under her leadership, PepsiCo’s net revenue increased by over 80%. Nooyi’s emphasis on sustainability and health has reshaped PepsiCo’s portfolio and influenced broader industry trends toward corporate responsibility.

13. Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington founded The Huffington Post in 2005 and Thrive Global in 2016, a behavioral technology company aiming to revolutionize work and life balance. Thrive Global brought attention to the concept of burnout before it became widely recognized. Huffington’s work has emphasized the importance of well-being and mental health, changing how organizations approach employee wellness.

14. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, known as the “Wizard of Omaha,” is one of the world’s most successful investors. He is the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and has pledged to give away nearly 99% of his wealth to philanthropic causes after his death. Buffett’s investment philosophy and charitable commitments have set a benchmark for responsible leadership and long-term value creation.

15. Reshma Saujani

Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, promotes technology training for girls. Her organization has set up camps in 42 states with over 10,000 girls attending, empowering women in the workplace. Saujani’s efforts to bridge the gender gap in tech have inspired a new generation of female coders and leaders.

16. Rosalind Brewer

Rosalind Brewer held various leadership positions at Walmart before becoming the CEO of Sam’s Club and later the CEO of Walgreens. She is notable as the only Black woman CEO of an S&P 500 company. Brewer’s leadership in retail and healthcare has highlighted the importance of diversity and inclusion in executive roles.

17. Jeff Weiner

Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, led the company through its IPO, making it one of the most-used social media platforms. He is active in non-profits, serving on the boards of DonorsChoose.org and Malaria No More. Weiner’s focus on compassion and collaboration has fostered a unique corporate culture at LinkedIn, driving both business success and social impact.

18. Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman was the CEO of eBay from 1998 to 2008, growing the company from $5.7 million to $8 billion in sales. She later became the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, overseeing its division into Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc., and is now the U.S. ambassador to Kenya. Whitman’s strategic leadership and ability to navigate complex corporate transformations have solidified her reputation as a top business leader.

19. John Zimmer

John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft, started the company as Zimride, a rideshare service on college campuses. Since its launch in 2012, Lyft has become one of the fastest-growing tech companies. Zimmer’s commitment to sustainable transportation and innovative business models has positioned Lyft as a key player in the sharing economy.

20. Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns started as a summer intern at Xerox in 1980 and became the president in 2007. She transformed Xerox into one of the world’s most diversified business services companies during her tenure as CEO from 2009 to 2016. Burns’s journey from intern to CEO is a testament to her exceptional leadership and dedication to innovation and growth.

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